Sunday, July 25, 2010

9 Pentecost


July 25, 2010

Colossians 1.6-19; Luke 11.1-13


+ On Tuesday afternoon, Pastor Mark Strobel of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church called me and asked if I wanted to go over to St. Mary’s Cathedral downtown and see the relics of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, which are “ on tour” at the moment. I didn’t think twice about it. I very eagerly went.

Now, my reason for going didn’t have anything to do with the fact that they were Mother Teresa’s relics necessarily. I didn’t feel one way or the other about her particularly. I went because I am a self-confessed, fully diagnosed relic junkie. I love relics—especially what is referred to as “first class” relics—which are bones or other actual physical items of a saint. I love looking at the little pieces of bone and other fragments of different saints. As some of you know, I am the very proud possessor of a first-class relic of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the Episcopal-born founder of the Roman Catholic Order of the Sisters of Charity. So, of course when I heard about Mother Teresa’s first-class relics, I HAD to go.

I’ll admit it was a bit eerie filing past her photos, her sandals in a glass case, her rosary and profession cross and the reliquaries containing a bit of her blood, two strands of her hair forming a cross, and a piece of bone. But what amazed me more than anything else was how the people there responded to these relics. There was a reverent silence there that was amazing despite the number of people who were present. And for several people who went forward to kiss the reliquaries and to kneel in prayer before them, it truly was a sacred experience.

For all our Anglican criticism of such things, it was one of the moments in which God truly seemed to be at work. God was present there, in a very real way. God was using these relics to speak to people—even to me. God was using these relics to “break through” in a way. And people responded to that “breaking through.”

Now, for most of us here this morning, bones and bits of blood and strands of hair probably are not going to do it for us. We’re good Episcopalians, after all. And despite our love/hate relationship with the Reformation (or maybe I’m just speaking for myself), it is moments like this that we may actually find ourselves (God forbid!) giving thanks for Martin Luther and John Calvin and the Wesley brothers. But, even for us good Episcopalians, there are these wonderful moments when God just breaks through to us, wherever we might be. And God does break through to us in wonderful ways.

Last week, in our reading from Colossians, we heard Paul talk to us about how Jesus is the eikon or image of God. We heard him say that “Jesus is the image of the invisible God.” In other words, when we look at Jesus, we see God-fully and completely.

Today, in our continued reading form Colossians, Paul continues his discourse. He expands a bit from this view of Jesus as the eikon or image of the living God. Today, we hear him pulling no punches in his view. Paul writes,

“For in [Jesus] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily…”

That is no light statement. That is a whopper of a belief. In Jesus, we find God—full and completely—in this one Body. Or, as the great Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

“In Jesus Christ the reality of God entered the reality of this world…Henceforward one can speak neither of God not of the world without speaking of Jesus Christ. All concepts of reality which do not take account of him are abstractions.”

In a sense, what we are witnessing here is the ultimate “breaking through” to us by God. God has truly, full and completely broken through to us in the physical human form of Jesus. So, if this is the case—if Jesus is truly the fullness of God—then, how do we respond to such a “breaking through? How CAN we respond?

Well…I think all we can do is pray. All we can do in the presence of something that incredible and that intense, is to …. Pray. Now, at first, when I say that, no doubt the first thought that comes to your mind when I say “Pray” is to make petition. But that’s not what I mean. I am not saying that in those moments when we recognize God’ breaking through to us that we kneel down and start asking God for things—as tempted as we might be to do so.

When I say Pray, I mean that we should simply open ourselves completely to God. We should take on a prayerful attitude. Or, as the Catechism we find in the back of The Book of Common Prayer defines prayer:

“[It] is responding to God, by thought and by deeds, with or without words.”

Prayer in the face of God’s coming to us and revealing God’s self to us, we do find the need to respond in some way.

In our Gospel for today, we find Jesus talking about this response. We find him talking about prayer. The disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray. Jesus responds by teaching them the prayer we know as the Lord’s Prayer. Then he goes on to share a parable about a friend asking another friend for a loan. In the midst of this discourse on prayer, Jesus says those words we find quite familiar:

“For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knows, the door will be opened.”

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard the complaint from people about unanswered prayers.

“I prayed and I prayed and nothing happened,” I will hear.

And I definitely not going to tell you how many times I have complained about unanswered prayer in my own life. But when we talk of such things as unanswered prayers, no doubt we are zeroing in on the first part of what Jesus is saying today:

“For everyone who asks receives.”

But rarely do we ever get beyond the petitionary aspect of prayer. Jesus shows us that prayer also involves seeking and knocking. Oftentimes in those moments when a prayer is not answered in the way we think it should, we just sort of give up. But if we seek out the reasons our prayers are not answered, we may truly find another answer—an answer we might not want to find, but an answer nonetheless. And if we keep on knocking, if we keep on pushing ourselves in prayer, we will find more than we can even possibly imagine. The point of all of this, of course, is that when God breaks through to us, sometimes we also have to reach out to God as well. And somewhere in the middle is where we will find the meeting point in which we find the asking, the seeking and knocking presented before us in a unique and amazing way.

In that place of meeting, we will find that prayer is truly our response to God “by thought and deed, with or without words.”

Jesus is clear that prayer needs to be regular and persistent. I have found that prayer is essential for all of us as Christians. If we do not have prayer to sustain us and hold us up and carry us forward, then it is so easy to become aimless and lost.

As some of you know, I lead a very disciplined prayer life. I do so not because I’m acetic or overly-pious or saintly ( I don’t think there’s anyone here this morning would call me any of those things—and if you would, you don’t me know at all). I lead a disciplined prayer because I can very easily become a lazy person regarding prayer. I pray the Daily Office every day—the services of Morning and Evening Prayer found in the Book of Common Prayer. I pray for everyone at St. Stephen’s by name through the course of the week. And I take regular times during the day to just stop and be quiet and simply “be” in the Presence of God.

The Daily Office is sort of the skeleton of my day. I have prayed the Office every day, without fail (well, there have been a few times when I’ve just been too sick to do so), for the last seven years. Actually I was praying the Daily Office long before that, but beginning at my ordination as a Deacon on this day seven years ago, I promised I would never miss praying the Daily Office. And, for the most part, I have not.

I made that promise, because I know that I am a creature of habit. I need the discipline of the Daily Office to keep me in check and to lay down the boundaries, because without those boundaries, I would too easily be led astray.

Of course, the Daily Office was a requirement for all Deacons, Priests and Bishops. Although in our current Book of Common Prayer it is not laid out so clearly, in earlier versions of the Prayer Book, it was emphatic. . In the 1662 Prayer Book it says this:

“All Priests and Deacons, unless prevented by sickness or other urgent causes, are to say daily the Morning and Evening Prayer either privately or in the Church.”

And, I have tried to do so every day over the last seven years. Some days not so well, other days better. I have prayed the Daily Office on wonderful days, when it all came together, on bad days when I really didn’t want to pray it all and, by far the majority of days, when I prayed and it was neither great nor horrible. And, as you’ve heard me say again and again, I commend the Daily Office to everyone who has issues like me of needing some structure in their prayer life. Fifteen minutes in the morning, fifteen minutes in the evening and a lifetime of spiritual sustenance.

The important thing, however, is not to be bound by structure or rules such as this. The important thing is finding a way in which we can each respond to God by thought and deeds, with or without words. The important thing is to recognize that God is breaking through to us, again and again.

We see it fully in Jesus, who came to us and continues to come to us. In response to that breaking through, we can each find a way of meeting God, whenever and where God comes to us, in prayer. In that place of meeting, you will receive whatever you ask, you will find what you’re searching for, and knocking, you will find a door opened to you. That is how God responds to us.

So, let us go to meet God. God is breaking through to us, wherever we might be in our lives. Let us go out to meet the God who asks of us first, who seeks us out first, who knocks first for us to open the door.




Sunday, July 18, 2010

8 Pentecost


July 18, 2010

Colossian 1.15-28, John 10.38-42

+ I used to be one of those people who rolled my eyes at the pretentiousness of any preacher who dared to begin his or her sermon with these words:

“Now in the original Greek…’

Oh please! I used to groan. The basic person in the pew could care less about what the original Greek said. And please, dear Lord, don’t let this personal actually use the Greek word!

So, you can imagine the chagrin I felt at myself when I actually considered beginning my sermon this morning with,

“The Greek word Paul used here in his letter to the Colossians…”

But I am going to suck it up and go with it, because it’s actually a Greek word we might enjoy playing with this morning. So, here goes…

In the original Greek Paul used in his letter, we find the word “eikon” used to describe the “image” of Christ Jesus. I really enjoy using that word Eikon. I so very much “get it.” It means something to me.

An icon, as most of know, is a sacred and holy image. In the Eastern Orthodox church, icons are pictures which are sacred because they portray something sacred. They are a “window,” in a sense, to the sacred, to the otherwise, “unseen.”

So, when we hear this word “image” or eikon, what we find is that Paul sees Jesus as the image or eikon of God. Jesus is the window into the unseen God.

And, to be honest, that’s exactly what I believe. To me, Jesus is very much that eikon of God. When I see Jesus, I see God. When I gaze upon the face of Jesus in icons, I feel as though I am truly gazing upon the Face of the Divine. And I have no doubt that is exactly who I am seeing.

I don’t know about you, but I do need things like icons in my own spiritual life. I need help more often than not. I need images. I need icons. I need them just the way I need incense and vestments and good music and the Eucharist. These things feed me spiritually. In them, I am actually sustained. My vision is sustained. My sense of smell is sustained. My sense of touch is sustained. And when it all comes together, I truly feel the Presence of God, here in our midst.

I can’t tell you how many times I have stood at this altar and during the singing of the Agnes Dei—the Lamb of God—I have actually looked down at that broken bread and into that Cup and have felt, amazingly, that Presence of Jesus. I have looked upon it and seen Jesus. And in seeing Jesus, I truly have gazed upon God. I have been made aware in that moment that this truly is Jesus on this altar. This truly is the Sacred and Holy Presence of God.

I can’t tell you how many times I have gazed deeply into an icon of Jesus and truly felt his Presence there with me, staring back at me with a familiarity that simply blows me away. This, I think, is what Paul is getting at in his letter. We truly do meet the invisible God in the Presence of Jesus.

For years, I used to complain—and it really was a complaint—about the fact that I was “searching for God.” I used to love to quote the writer Carson McCullers, who once said, “writing, for me, is a search for God.”

But I have had to come to the realization—and it was quite a huge realization—that I have actually found God. I am not searching and questing after God, aimlessly or blindly searching for God in the darkness anymore. I am not searching for God because I have truly found God in the person of Jesus.

In our Gospel reading for today, it seems almost as though Mary too has seen Jesus as the eikon of God. We find this very familiar story of Martha the busybody and Mary the content gazer upon Jesus. It’s seems most Christians have divided themselves into two camps regarding Martha and Mary, sort of like people now-a-days are divided into camps from the Full Moon/Twilight/Eclipse films—some people are “Team Edward” who believe the character Bella should go with the vampire Edward, while others are “Team Jacob,” believing she should go with the werewolf Jacob (I am so “Team Jacob,” by the way).

Similarly, we seem to find Christians who are either “Team Martha” or “Team Mary.” But some of us are a little bit of both. Yes, we are busybodies. Those of you who know me know I can be a busybody—or more accurately, I can be a unashamed work-a-holic—after all, I’m writing a sermon for a Sunday on which I am on vacation. But we can also be contemplatives, like Mary.

As an Oblate of Benedictine Order, in which the motto is “Ore et labora”—work and pray—I understand the balance between the two. I understand that there are times to be a busybody and there are times in which I simply must slow down and quietly contemplate Jesus. I often prefer to do this in front of the Blessed Sacrament, but sometimes I just do it wherever I am in Jesus’ Presence.

When we recognize that Jesus is truly the image of God, we find ourselves at times longingly gazing at Jesus or quietly sitting in his Presence. But sometimes that recognition of who Jesus is sometimes stirs us. It lights a fire within us and compels us to go out and do the work that needs to be done. But unlike Martha, we need to do that work without worry or distraction.

When we are in Jesus’ presence—when we recognize that in Jesus we have truly found what we are questing for, what we are searching for, what we are longing for—we find that worry and distraction have fallen away from us. We don’t want anything to come between us and this marvelous revelation of God we find before us. In that way, Mary truly has chosen the better part.

So, let us also choose the better part. Let us balance our lives in such a way that, yes, we work, but we do so without distraction, without worry, without letting work be our god, getting in the way of that time to serve Jesus and be with Jesus and those Jesus sends our way. Let us also, however, take time to sit quietly in that Presence and to gaze longingly at the Jesus who is more than just another human. Let us, rather, look into his face, let us look deeply into his eyes, and see there the fullness of God that was pleased to dwell there.


Sunday, July 11, 2010

7 Pentecost


July 11, 2010

Luke 10.25-37

+ The Reverend Martin Luther King, on April 3, 1968, the night before his assassination, preached his famous “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” sermon in Memphis, Tennessee. Most of us are at least somewhat familiar with that very famous sermon. But what a lot of people forget about that sermon is that King actually referenced the Good Samaritan in it—and in quite a personal way.

King said:

“I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho.And as soon as we got on that road I said to my wife, ‘I can see why Jesus used this as the setting for his parable.’ It's a winding, meandering road. It's really conducive for ambushing…That's a dangerous road. In the days of Jesus it came to be known as the "Bloody Pass." And you know, it's possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it's possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking, and he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the priest asked, the first question that the Levite asked was, ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’”

It’s beautiful—even now. And today—on this Sunday inw hich we hear in our Gospel reading the parable of the Good Sanritita, it is particualry apt.

But the part of this story that most of us miss is the fact that when Jesus told this parable to his audience, he did so with a particular scheme in mind. The term “Good Samaritan” would have been an oxymoron for those Jews listening to Jesus that day. Samaritans, after all, were quite hated. They were viewed as heretics, as defilers, as unclean. They were seen as betrayers of the Jewish faith. So, when Jesus tells this tale of a Good Samaritan, it no doubt rankled a few nerves in the midst of that company.

With this in mind, we do need to ask ourselves some hard questions. You, of course, know where I am going with this. So, here goes: Who are the Samaritans in our understadnign of this story?

Martin Luther King, in his sermon, described the Samaritan as “a man of another race.”

For us, the story only really hits home when we replace that term “Samaritian” with the name of someone we don’t like at all. Maybe it is “Fundamentalist,” or “Republican” or “Conservative.” Maybe it is “Muslim” or “Foreigner” or “Panhandler.” Maybe it is “Redneck” or “Racist” or Misogynist” or “Homophone.” It’s not hard to find the names.

But it is hard for any of us to put that word “good” in front of any of those names. It’s hard for a good many fo us to find anythign “good in any of these people. For us, to face the fact that the Good Fundamentalist, or the Good Republican or the Good Conservative of the Good Redneck could stop and help us out might not sit so comfortably with us.

We—good progressive Christians that we are—are also guilty sometimes of being compascent. We too find ourselves sometimes feeling quite smug about our “advanced” or “edcuated” ways of thinking about society and God and the Church. And we too demonize those we don’t agree with sometimes.

Brother Curtis Almquist of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, preached the homily last year for the funeral of Br. Paul Wessinger, one of the truly great spiritual leaders of the modern Church (in my opinion). In his homily for Br. Paul, Br. Curtis said:

“We meet Jesus in our baptism where, we believe, Jesus comes to live our heart, to make his home with us, to abide with us. But this is also true for others. They too, are a dwelling place for Jesus. We, individually and corporately, embody Jesus. Yes, Jesus lives in me, but Jesus also lives in you.”

It is easy for me to imagine Jesus living in me personally, depsite all the shortcomings and negative things I know about myself. I know that, sometimes, I am a despicable person and yet, I know that Jesus is alive in me. So, why is it so hard for me to see that Jesus lives even in those whom I dislike, despite those things that make them so dislikeable to me? For me, this is the hard part. Not only recognizing that Jesus lives in others, but actually seeing Jesus alive in those people I have perosnally demonized is really one of the hardest thigns for me to do as a Christian.

The Gospel story today shows us that we must love and serve and see Jesus alive in even those whom we demonize—even if those same people demonize us as well. Being a Christian means loving even those we, under any other circumstance, simply can’t stand. And this story is all about being jarred out of our complascent way of seeing things.

It’s also easy for some of us to immediately identifiy ourselves with the Good Samaritan. We, of course, would help somoen stranded on the road, even when it means making ourselves vulnaerable to the robbers who might be lurking nearby. But I can tell you that as I hear and read this parable, I—quite uncomfortably—find myself identifying with the priest and the Levite. I am the one, as much as I hate to admit it, who could very easily, out of fear or because of the social structure in which I live, crossing over to the other side of the road. And I hate the fact that my thougths even go there.

But love changes this whole story. When we truly live out that commandment of Jesus to us that we must love God and love our neightbor as ourselves, we know full-well that those social and poltical and perosnal boundaries fall to the ground. Love always defeats our dislike of someone. Love always defeats the poltical boudnairies that divide us. Love always softens our hearts and our stubborn wills and allows us see the goodness and love that exists in others, even when doing so is uncomfortable and painful for us.

Now I say that hoping I don’t come across as na├»ve. I know that my love of the racist will not necessariuly change the racist. I klnow that loving the homophobe will not necessarily change the homophone. But it does change me. It does cause me to look—as mucha s I hate to do so—into the eyes of that person and see something more. It does caus eme to look at the person and realize that God does love this person despite their failings and their faults—just as God love me despite my failings and my faults.

These are the boundaries Jesus came to break down in us. And these are the boudnaires Jesus commands us to break down within ourselves.

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” the lawyer asks Jesus in today’s Gospel.

The answer is love. We must love—fully and completely.

“You have givne the right answer,” Jesus says. “Do this, and you will live.”

Jesus doesn’t get much clearer than that. So, love God. Love your neighbor. Who is your neighbor? You neighbor is not just the one who is easy to love, but also the one who is hardest to love. Love them and you too will live.









Sunday, July 4, 2010

6 Pentecost


July 4, 2010

Luke 10.1-11, 16-20

+ You often hear me talking about how much I enjoy being a priest. Probably you’re sick of me talking about how much I enjoy being a priest. That’s all right. I really don’t mind. But I really do enjoy doing it. I enjoy the pastoral work I do. I really enjoy celebrating at the liturgies of our church—especially the Eucharist, which, as you know, is the center of my life and of all of our lives here at St. Stephen’s Ever since I was first called the priesthood when I was the ripe old age of thirteen, I just knew this is what I was meant to do.

However, I often hear from people in the larger Church that when it comes to ministry, it is assumed it is solely my job to be the minister. People understandably believe that the “ordained ministry” and ministry in general are the same thing. Certainly ordained ministry comes out of ministry in general, but ministry is what all of us as Christians are called to do. All of us who are following Jesus and striving to live out our Baptismal Covenant and who are heeding Jesus’ command to love God and love one another are doing ministry.

Now, lately in the last few sermons I have been having you take a look at some of those forgotten recesses of the Book of Common Prayer. One area I always like to encourage people to look at when they are having questions about the Episcopal Church or about Christianity in general is the Catechism, found in the back of the book. There you will find, on page 855, this very provocative question:

“Who are the ministers of the Church?”

The answer: “The Ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests and deacons.”

Notice what comes first. Not bishops, not priests, not deacons, but lay persons.

The next question the Catechism asks is” What is the ministry of the laity?”

The answer: “The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church.”

Finally, the final question is: “What is the duty of all Christians?”

“The duty of all Christians,” the Catechism tells us, “is to follow Christ; to come together week by week for corporate worship; and to work, pray, and give for the spread of the kingdom of God.”

So, as you can see, ministry is not just about those of who wear funny dog collars and dress up in vestments and process in and out of church. All of us are called to ministry. In my years of ministry—both as a lay person and later as an ordained priest—I have come across many interesting personalities who have taught me about true Christian ministry.
By their personality and example, by their exuberance and joy for living, they motivate us and light a fire under us to go out and spread the Kingdom. I have known several of these people in my life and I have always been excited by them. I am thankful to God when these people come into my life. After all, we have also met those people in the Church who drive us crazy and make us want to run screaming from the Church. Who knows, I might be one of those people for you.

As wonderful as those people are who truly are touched by God with a winning personality, I have also been amazed by the sense of humility many of these people have. More often than not, I have been surprised to discover that those who are truly blessed by God with the gift of ministry are the ones who are least aware they have this gift.

One of those people I knew was Bishop John Thornton, former Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Idaho. When Bishop Thornton served as the Sabbatical Dean at the Cathedral several years ago, I have to admit I was wary of him. Those people who have a larger-than-life personality and reputation oftentimes make me a bit cautious. And Bishop Thornton’s reputation certainly preceded him. According to those who knew him and loved him, the Bishop could do no wrong. That, of course, was a glaring red light to me since I had not yet met a Bishop who could do no wrong. But as I got to know him, as I worked long and hard beside him, I came realized that people were right about Bishop Thornton. He was blessed by God in ways I don’t think I can fully articulate even now. He taught me in simple ways about true ministry when I knew him. He taught me much through the example of his own long years of experience and he was also ready to share with me those examples in his life in which he failed miserably in what he did.

Bishop John and I bonded in a very real and meaningful way during his time at the Cathedral and I am the better person, a better priest and a better minister of God for having known him. I remember one situation in particular in which I had been asked to bless a house. The reason for the house blessing was because the people who lived in the house claimed they were having supernatural experiences there. They truly believed there was a ghost or ghosts living with them in the house, which was manifesting itself through slamming doors, voices and the sounds of footsteps. Now to be honest, I did not want to bless this house for these reasons.

In frustration, I went Bishop John and I laid it out on the line for him. I said, “Bishop, I don’t want to be a part of this. I’m not an exorcist. What good am I going to do these people in this situation?”

The Bishop looked at me very sternly, but with a twinkle in his eye, and said, “Who cares what you believe.”

I was shocked, uncharacteristically, into silence. He then went on: “If those people think they have a ghost and they are coming to you asking you to bless their house, then you go there and for the time that you are in that house, you believe that there is a ghost in that house.

“You do your duty and you bless that house and you walk alongside those people for that time that you’re with them and be their priest, their pastor, their friend and, if need be, their exorcist. Be whatever they need you to be.”

I can tell you that this has been, by far, the best advice I ever received from a Bishop or priest or a lay person in my entire life and it has been advice that has been very helpful to me many times and in many other situations throughout my ministry.

Having said that, I am still very uncomfortable with the cults of personality that exist in the Church. I have known too many church leaders who have directly or indirectly made it clear to me that it was because of them—because their winning personality—that a particular parish flourished. It’s an unfortunate trap leaders in the Church fall into when they believe that a parish’s success depends on them and their own abilities of ministry—and, mind you, I am not just talking about priests here. And lay leaders in the Church have fallen into this trap as well.

Maybe to some extent it’s true. But it still makes me wary. We are dealing with similar personalities in today’s Gospel. The seventy that Jesus chose and sent out came back amazed by the gift of blessing God had granted to them and their personality. They exclaim” Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” But Jesus—in that way that Jesus does—puts them in their place. He tells them, “do not rejoice in these gifts, but rejoice rather that your names are written in heaven.” Or to be more blunt, he is saying rejoice not in yourselves and the things you can do with God’s help, but rejoice rather in God.

As the great Anglican theologian Reginald Fuller (who, I have been told by those how knew him, also had one of those amazing personalities) says, “It is Christ’s mission and message, not ours.”

The burden of bringing about the Kingdom of God shouldn’t be solely the individual responsibly of any one of us. Imagine that stress in having to bring that about. Bringing the Kingdom of God into our midst is the responsibility of all of us together. It is the responsibility of those who have the personality to bring people on board and it is the responsibility of those of us who do not have that winning personality.

For those of us who do not have that kind of personality, it is our responsibility to bring the Kingdom about in our own ways. We do so simply by living out our Christian commitment. We do so by loving God and loving each other as God loves us in whatever way we can in our lives.

Bringing the Kingdom of God about in our midst involves more than just preaching from a pulpit or attending church on Sunday. It means living it out in our actions as well. It means living out our faith in our every day life. It means loving God and each other as completely as we can. It means using whatever gifts we have received from God to bring the Kingdom a bit closer.

These gifts—of our personality, of our vision of the world around us, of our convictions and beliefs on certain issues—are what we can use. It means not letting our personalities—no matter how magnetic and appealing they might be—to get in the way of Christ. The Church does not exists for own our personal use. The Church exists for Christ. The Church is ideally the conduit through which the Kingdom of God comes into our midst. The Church is our way of coming alongside Christ in his ministry to the world. In a very real sense, the Church is our way to be the hands, the feet, the voice, the compassion, the love of Christ to this world and to each other.

Hopefully, in doing that, we receive some consolation ourselves. Hopefully in doing that, we in turn receive the compassion and love of Christ in our own lives as well. But if we are here purely for our own well-being and not for the well-being of others, than it is does become only about us and not about Christ. And in those moments, we are sounding very much like those 70 who come back to Jesus exclaiming, “look at what we have done!”

The message of today’s Gospel is that it must always be about Christ. It must always be about helping that Kingdom of Christ break through into this selfish world of huge egos. It means realizing that when we are not doing it for Christ, we have lost track of what we’re doing.

So, be the hands, the feet, the voice, the compassion and the love of Christ in the world around you. Like those 70, be amazed at what you can do in Christ’s name. But more importantly rejoice! Rejoice in the fact that your name is written in heaven.