“Resurrection Life Builds Unity”

 

 Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Seventh Sunday Of Easter

Acts 1: 6 – 14/ Psalm 68: 1-6; 18-20/1 Peter 4: 12 - 16 /John 17: 1 - 11

 

 Fr. Gary W. Thurman

 

 

It’s been a tough week to be in the Philippines!  First there was the tragically violent situation in Mindanao, which prompted the government to proclaim those two words that strike terror in the heart of every Filipino: Martial Law!  Then, only a couple of days later, Luzon experienced yet another mild earthquake.  It wasn’t so much the earthquake itself that brought fear, it was just the reminder that we do live in the heart of the Ring of Fire, and perhaps the local earth will shake with much more force, with much more devastation.  In the midst of all this, what hope does the Filipino Christian have?

Today’s Gospel concludes with the prayer of Jesus to the Father: “Holy Father, keep them in Your Name.  (John 17: 11)  This in itself is comforting.  Jesus asks our Father to keep us … from what?  Keep us from terrorist attacks?  Keep us from earthquakes?  Volcanic eruptions?  Being struck by a drunken driver?  We can claim protection from these things and many more, according to Psalm 91, can’t we?

I’d love to tell you that, as Christians, we are immune from terrorist attacks; that such things will never occur in Paranaque, or Bicutan, or even Marimar Village.  But I can’t.  If this prayer of Jesus, if Psalm 91 or Psalm 27 insures all believers from any physical harm, then how do we explain the atrocities being experienced by our brethren in Egypt, in Syria, in certain parts of Africa, even in parts of this country? 

I can’t tell you that a major earthquake will never strike Metro Manila.  Chances are one will, sooner or later.  It’s just a geological fact.  If we think we are protected from this because we are “good people”, are we saying that there were no good people living in Baguio City in 1990? 

It is almost amusing how, every time we experience a minor tremor some people panic and cry out, “It’s a sign!  A sign of the end!  Get ready, Jesus is on His way!”  Bring on your holy war, ISIS, because it will just bring on Jesus!

No, that’s not what the Bible says.  In Matthew 24: 6-8 Jesus does say the following: “You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not frightened, for these things must take place, but that is not yet the end … in various places there will be famines and earthquakes.  But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.”

In today’s first reading from Acts 1: 7 Jesus told His disciples, just before He ascended, “It is not for you to know the times or the epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority.”  So don’t think that this week in the Philippines is the beginning of the end.  People have been proclaiming that since probably a couple of hours after the Ascension.  It will happen one day – but not yet!

So what did Jesus really mean when He prayed, “Holy Father, keep them”?  To understand v. 11, we must begin with the opening of the prayer in v. 1: “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You.”  The heart and core of this prayer, especially this first part of it, is God, through Christ, receiving glory.  We know that this is the primary calling of every believer, to bring glory to God.  Eight times in this prayer Jesus uses the word “glory”.  But v. 4 is one of the most revealing: “I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do.”  How did Jesus glorify the Father?  By accomplishing the work the Father had for Him.  What was that work?  In part, His suffering, His passion, His death.  This was hardly all the work, but it was certainly an irreplaceable part.  As Jesus finally realized in the Garden of Gethsemane, it was a cup that He could not avoid.

Jesus also prays in v. 7, “Now they have come to know that everything you have given Me is from You.”  Everything.  Even the work of suffering.  This, too, is from God.  Every trial Jesus underwent, every pain, came from God.  And its aim was to bring glory to God.

Seeing this, let us go to our second reading from 1 Peter to shed more light on this situation.  Here St. Peter says, “Hey, this fiery trial you are going through is not strange!  It’s pretty much normal.  In fact, the more you share in Christ’s sufferings, the more you should rejoice!  So keep on rejoicing, because you are blessed.  How?  Because in your sufferings, if they are like those of Christ, for the glory of God, then the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you!  Like those of Christ, our sufferings, be they from ISIS, or an earthquake, or a reviling officemate or classmate, bring glory to God.

Then St. Peter closes the thought by saying, “If you suffer as a Christian, in that Name glorify God.”  In that Name; the Name Christian.  Where have we heard that before?  Back to Jesus’ prayer: “Keep them in Your Name which You gave Me.”  In this Name we glorify God in our sufferings.  Outside that Name, we suffer in vain.  That is why Jesus prayed, “Keep them in that Name, that Name “Christ”, the Anointed One, so they can continue to give glory to You.”

If we don’t understand this we may think, “Oh, this is a dangerous time to be a Christian.”  On the contrary, it is a dangerous time not to be a Christian.  We must not let fear tempt us to back away from our commitment to Christ.  As He says, “I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.  But I will warn you Whom to fear: fear the One Who after He has killed has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!”  (Luke 12: 4-5) Do we fear, as in be terrified, of those who can only kill the body?  Or do we fear, as in revere and respect, our God?  We can choose to play it safe, to relax our commitment to Jesus.  But that is not safe, my friends.  As Jesus says again, “He who is not with Me is against Me.” (Matthew 12: 30)

When we look at the current situation in the Philippines, with Martial Law in Mindanao, and perhaps more looming; with earthquakes coming at an alarming rate, the war on drugs escalating ever more violently, and so many other things, we may wonder where our hope is.  We may wonder if it is any help to remain in the faith.  I can just tell you this: I’d rather be in than out.  In the faith, we have Jesus at the right hand of the Father as our great High Priest, praying, “Holy Father, keep them.  Keep them in Your Name, the Name Christian, the Name in which all suffering makes sense, and brings glory to You, to Me, and even to them.”  In the faith, in His Name, is our hope.  And as we are kept in His Name we are one, which is the greatest sign to the world of God’s love and power.  In our oneness with those other parts of the Body which are suffering, when we refuse to say, “They must deserve it”, but we rather join in prayer for them, that their faith not fail, we glorify the Godhead. 

And that’s why we’re here. 

“Resurrection Life Builds Unity”

 

Sunday, May 28, 2017:  The Seventh Sunday Of Easter

Acts 1: 6 – 14/ Psalm 68: 1-6; 18-20/1 Peter 4: 12 – 16/ John 17: 1 - 11

 

 

Fr. Roberto M. Jorvina

 

 

It is great to be here in Church! This is a privilege to be here in the Church today!  We hope we don’t get entangled with things or situations that will hinder us from going to Church. Even as the Easter Season is fast coming to its conclusion, and together with all the great things that we have heard about the gospel,  we have also seen the many events that have taken place in recent days. It is as if it is to take away and to distract our attention from the things of God. 

 

Early this week, we had this situation in Marawi City and in parts of Mindanao.  Last Thursday,  we had an earthquake that shook many parts of Luzon.   There is the incident of Ariana Grande in Manchester, England.  Events are happening, but one thing perhaps that many did not realize is that last Thursday, Jesus ascended to heaven.   In the midst of all the turmoil, God’s Word is still the final authority.  We must never forget this, and we must continue to hold on to this truth. 

 

We are on day 43 of the Easter Season, out of the 50 days of Easter.  Next Sunday is Pentecost Sunday, the 50th day, after which, we will proceed to Ordinary Time.  Easter might be over, but Resurrection Life never ends, never ceases and it continues.

 

During the seven weeks, we have seen how the Resurrection life built our faith, our understanding, our security, our commitment, our communion, and for this Sunday, how it builds our  unity.  All of these components in these seven weeks were made possible because of Christ’s sacrifice.  Our gospel today brings us to the scene of the night prior to the sacrifice of Christ,  His act of divine love.

 

In the gospel, we see this portion of  Jesus’ prayer at the Garden of Gethsemane.   What is the  significance of Jesus’ prayer to the Easter message?  What is its significance to our lives today, in the 21st Century?  Many things are happening all around us. There are so many noises around us that even those that are fiction, like those teleseryes in TV, affect us greatly. In all of these, what is the connection of Jesus’ prayer? 

 

Upon closer inspection, this prayer sums up what Jesus came for.  It gives us an understanding of His mission, His purpose, and most especially, His heart.  Before we can even leave Easter, we need to understand the meaning of this Season and why we are looking into the prayer of Jesus and its connection to our lives today.   

 

Our theme today is about unity.  There are many insights from the readings that we can draw about unity.  I wish to  draw out three points that characterize not only the theme of unity, but the whole Easter Season.  I call it the 3 R’s of Unity &  Resurrection Life.

 

The first R is: unity is relationship.  Resurrection life is about relationship.   In John 17:3, Jesus said, “Now this is eternal life: that they (the disciples and us today) know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”  Life is about relationship with the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.  Easter brings to us the truth that the life is built on relationships.  The salvation we have received from Christ is founded on the relationship which He has had with us from the beginning.  All our hopes, all our failures, all our dreams, all our endeavors, all our accomplishments and even our failures are connected to this relationship with God.    

 

Just as God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, He chose us for relationships.  In Ephesians 1:4-5, St. Paul said, “Long ago, even before He made the world, God chose us to be His very own through what Christ would do for us; He decided then to make us holy in His eyes, without a single fault—we who stand before him covered with his love. 5 His unchanging plan has always been to adopt us into his own family by sending Jesus Christ to die for us. And he did this because He wanted to!”  Jesus did it not because of necessity, but out of a desire of God.   There is a very intimate bond that God desires to have with us that goes beyond just mere religion, mere ceremony or mere vestments and all of these trappings that we do every Sunday.   These are not wrong, but this is not the basis of our lives.  The basis of our lives is relationship.   This is about us and Christ.  

 

The reason for all of what has happened at the Cross, the reason we have the Cross as a reminder of all the suffering and death of Christ and His resurrection,  is that all that we have received, all the effect has been because God so loved the world. 

 

This is the big picture that many fail to understand in their dealings with God.  It is a desire that springs from the nature of God because God is Love!  The reason why we struggle in our Christian walk, the reason why there is a weak response from us, the reason there is boredom in the Church, the reason we are grappling for substitutes outside to counterfeit and to assuage our feelings to get us going is that we have not seen the picture of God’s love – the excitement that the love of God creates.  We will never be bored as a Christian when we realize the passion that it will give to us.  Early Christians overcame the evil one by the blood of the Lamb and by the word and testimony of Jesus.  They loved not their lives, even to death.   Why were there many martyrs before?  It is because their love and relationship with God was so alive.   

 

The thrill that we see in this is basically a glimpse in human relationships –  that of a relationship of a husband to his wife; a relationship of a father to his son/daughter; a relationship of a mother to her daughter.  These are a foretaste, glimpses of the oh-so-wonderful relationship we have with God.  Why will sacrifice for our loved one?   This is because this is a foretaste of what God has done for us so that we can see the beauty of God’s relationship, and so that we can bring that love to a love for one another in the Church.  It brings us closer to each other, and to have a common purpose with our brothers and sisters in the Church.   This is unity, and it begins with a relationship with Christ. 

 

Marriage, family, the Church, the society, even our nation rests on a relationship that we have with our Lord, Jesus Christ.   It rests not on human effort, but on God’s initiative.  We love because He first loved us.  In the gospel last Sunday,  Jesus said, “I will not leave you as orphans.”  He will be a father to the fatherless, a protector of the widows.  In Psalm 68:5-6, it says,”A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.
God sets the lonely in families,  he leads out the prisoners with singing;  but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.”

 

Why do we receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon us? This is because the same Holy Spirit is the means and the agent for the love of God to be poured into our hearts.  It’s not so much about the power of God, but it is about the love of God.  

 

The second R in unity is responsibility. Relationship is great, but it should now birth responsibility.  Our life is not just about having the blessings of God or that we are united.  Unity is not the end, but a means to achieve the purpose of our lives that we may demonstrate the life of Christ.   Unity is there in order that Christ may be seen in our lives.  Blessings don’t stand alone.   They are tools and means to achieve God’s destiny for us.  We are blessed with a relationship with God so that we may have the responsibility to Him.   What do we do if we are married? If we are in a relationship?  Getting married or being in a relationship is not the ultimate goal, but to fulfill the calling of God in our lives.

 

Like anything, the prayer of Christ in John 17 lays out for us the life, attitude and example of Christ as being one with the Father.  John 17:4, Jesus said, “I brought glory to you here on earth by doing everything you told me to.”  In Jesus’ life, He first focused on His relationship with God, and then, His responsibility to do the will of His Father.  In the Message Translation, it says, “I glorified you on earth by completing down to the last detail what you assigned me to do.”  This relationship; this is responsibility.

 

In John 17:6, Jesus said, “ “I have told these men all about you. They were in the world, but then you gave them to me. Actually, they were always yours, and you gave them to me; and they have obeyed you.”  The fruit of a relationship is to have a responsibility.   Once His blessings come upon us, once we are united with Him, then the task and privilege of sharing His work now is upon us.   It is a privilege to obey God.  Responsibility and work in the Christian life is not about labor or a hard and difficult thing.  It is about the joy of participation.  We were chosen so that we can participate in the work of God.  This is a responsibility to do His work. 

 

In John 17:11,  Jesus says, “ Now I am leaving the world, and leaving them behind, and coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your own care—all those you have given me—so that they will be united just as we are, with none missing.”  Blessings of relationships come with responsibility of action.  The blessings of the new life come with a responsibility to share the work of God.  In 1 Peter 4:12-16 Living Bible, it says, “12 Dear friends, don’t be bewildered or surprised when you go through the fiery trials ahead, for this is no strange, unusual thing that is going to happen to you. 13 Instead, be really glad—because these trials will make you partners with Christ in his suffering, and afterwards you will have the wonderful joy of sharing his glory in that coming day when it will be displayed.”   We have a responsibility to fulfill what God wants from us and to demonstrate it. It is not about the work, but it is about the joy of the results that will happen.

 

14 Be happy if you are cursed and insulted for being a Christian, for when that happens the Spirit of God will come upon you with great glory.[a]15 Don’t let me hear of your suffering for murdering or stealing or making trouble or being a busybody and prying into other people’s affairs. 16 But it is no shame to suffer for being a Christian. Praise God for the privilege of being in Christ’s family and being called by his wonderful name! 

 

We have the relationship, we have the responsibility, and the third R for unity is about restoration. Do we see the trials we have as something that we cannot overcome?  Remember, resurrection life is restoration.   Unity is restoration.   In John 17:5, “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began, restore me to the glory of God.”   Even before the world began, Christ shared the glory of the Father.  He took on man;  left the glory of being God; and He took on flesh.  Now He says, “Restore Me, Father, to that place once again – the glory that I enjoyed with You.”  When we are united with God, when unity is there because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are made one with the very essence and purpose of our creation.  We are brought back to God’s original intention for our lives.  Don’t lose hope; don’t give up.  We were born to a living hope, that is, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.   Whatever we are facing right now, difficult it may be, the last say is Jesus. He is the Alpha and the Omega.  He is the  beginning and the end.

 

In Acts 3:19-21New International Version (NIV), St. Peter said, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, 20 and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. 21 Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.”  The final say is God. Christ reconciled the world.  Can life be beautiful again?  Yes! Can there be joy again? Yes!  Can the leaves be green again?  Yes! Can the trees blossom again?  Yes!  These things can happen because these were the things life is all about.  This is the life God meant it to be.   God intended us to bloom and to be fruitful.  It would be a wonderful  and thrilling experience to realize that we are back where God intended us to be – restored! Even if there are hindrances, we are back where we should be!

Easter is a grand reunion!  It is not being a “balikbayan” to where we were.  This is why we always want a happy ending in a story.  This is restoration.  This is what Christ is.  This is what Easter is.  It is a grand reunion of Father and His children.  This is restoration, and this is unity, and this is resurrection life!

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