From Resurrection to Ascension to Pentecost to Trinity. A natural progression of Divine love. First, in actions, and then in the essence of his being.
In order to be a person of authentic love in our world today, a person who best reflects the love of God we carry in our hearts, such love must be revealed in the actions of our lives. To say we love God and speak ill of others, or ignore the basic needs of those who battle each day for their basic needs – and there are many who do – that would be somewhat tantamount to God promising us his love, and then not raising his Son from the dead, leaving him in the grave. Thus, leaving us also in the grave. What sort of love is that?
God would be speaking the language of love for us, which he has done in Jesus, while performing actions that are inconsistent with his words. But that’s not how God works. At times, we may operate on that level of inconsistency, but not the Almighty.
The feast of the Trinity is the stamp of approval for all that we’ve celebrated since the Annunciation to Mary, when Jesus was conceived in her womb. Every action that followed that most holy meeting in the Judean countryside between an angel and a Virgin has been about Jesus. Thus, every action has centered on the virtues of love and sacrifice. Annunciation; Nativity; Ministry; Death; Resurrection; Ascension; Pentecost; and the thousand parts of his life I have no time to cover in a short few minutes. The whole message of Trinity is love. That’s where it begins, and that’s where is will never end.
Every action that came down from heaven from the goodness of our Heavenly Father, to the actions of Jesus his Son, to the sending of the Holy Spirit infusing the hearts and minds of the Apostles – an infusion I’d love to see happen to a few million other people – are all actions of love. First, second, third, and last.
Our celebration of the Most Holy Trinity affords us the opportunity, if you like, to remove the clutter we may carry within, such as why God did this, or why God didn’t do that, or why God allowed this to happen, or why God seems to be varied and inconsistent at times, or why God is so fickle when we are the ones who are fickle. The Most Holy Trinity affords us the opportunity to re-center our image of God, if you like. An image that may be skewed, or off the path just a few yards, or 100 miles, and have the wisdom and courage to go to the heart of who he is, and discover the loving actions he carries out on our behalf, backing up all the words he has spoken through the Scriptures.
In today’s Gospel where, again, Jesus is preparing his Disciples for his impending departure on Savior Airlines before his return to them in a new resurrected body. He says to them, “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.” I know how he feels. There are homilies where I would love to not hold back one vowel. But even Jesus holds back for the moment.
However, his holding back, knowing they cannot at this time bear the entire truth of his words, is not centered in any fear of his losing them, or having them walk away like many did when his words about eating his body and drinking his blood were too difficult for their ears, so they left their salvation never to return. Jesus’ holding back is centered in his love for them. And that’s why I hold back at times; because I love you. The same reason I don’t hold back at times. The next step in preparing the Apostles to change the world from its evil ways to the ways of love and goodness, and teach the good things of God supplanting the pagan actions of not knowing God, is the sending of the Spirit, a Divine action of pure love.
The same Spirit still abides with us. He challenges us to challenge the spirit of the age, another way of saying the rejection of God and his love for us. The spirit of the age today is very pervasive. Remember in the 1st reading, the wisdom of God spoke these words; “and I found delight in the human race.”
After mentioning the heavens, the mountains, the hills, the earth, the deep, the skies above, the sea that so many of you enjoy visiting in the warm weather, the wisdom of God proclaims delight in one part of creation; the human race. The same human race we may look at in certain settings and say correctly, “That’s less than human. Aborting a child in its mother’s womb is less than human. That’s sub-human!” Instead, God delights in us, aside of our horrific actions. He delights in us because he loves us first, far above the rest of creation. A love he did not hold back when raising his Son from the dead.
It is said by many that the Most Holy Trinity is impossible to grasp, to understand, to figure out. Sort of like the Red Sox this year. But there’s the ground zero of God’s being that is not hard to get. And that is, “God is love.” The premiere human understanding of our Creator.
Just look at a young child, a toddler, a baby, and you will see the premiere understanding of our Creator. Which is why Jesus says, ‘Let the children come to me.” In the face of that child, in the wonder of their being, we see the love of God in its perfect vision, from Annunciation, to Incarnation, to Death, to Resurrection, to Ascension, to Pentecost, to the Most Holy Trinity.
“No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” And, through the Holy Spirit. And with the Holy Spirit. For the Spirit is the Spirit of Truth, who knows no lies, and wherever the Spirit leads us in words or actions, we can trust that God is the One working through us.
There are many folks who, for one reason or another, deal with a spirit that is not holy, and would never say, “Jesus is Lord.” In the charged-up world of political correctness, we might even fear offending another person or another faith if we were to say “Jesus is Lord” by the Holy Spirit. Maybe a good question for us would be, “When’s the last time we spoke publicly, “Jesus is Lord?”
It’s true that actions speak louder than words. A person who professes Christ with the actions of their lives – such as continuous works of mercy, or prayer for others – they speak “Jesus is Lord” in what they do. But St. Paul is on to something here when writing about saying “Jesus is Lord.” When speaking those words in the stillness of the night, for example, speaking them to ourselves in prayer, it is appropriate and calming. But our belief in Jesus is not only a private faith for private moments, such as the darkness and quiet of the night. It’s easy to be one with the Holy Spirit in those moments, and speak words by the Spirit.
But our faith in Christ is also a communal, public faith to be shared openly in the culture, where speaking and stating the obvious for us that “Jesus is Lord” is a pleasant reminder of who he is and what he has accomplished on our behalf. Yet, there are those times when much of the spokenness of “Jesus is Lord” has been watered down and privatized. We are certainly in need of capturing some of St. Paul’s zeal with the holy words, “Jesus is Lord,” and let the Spirit lead us. And not live a watered-down version where political correctness controls our faith in the Risen One.
Pentecost Sunday is when the tide shifts for the Apostles, and for us too. The tide shifts for them by way of being infused with everlasting courage – although they will still have their moments. They are infused with preaching, teaching, and fully embracing “Jesus is Lord” in their many languages. They receive the Spirit powerfully from Christ breathing on them first, and then again in the Upper Room after the Lord’s Ascension. That’s a lot of Spirit. Now they’re ready to hit the road and bring some Good News with them. And do so under threats, imprisonment, stoning and death. The only part missing from that short list today is the stoning.
The Pentecostal tide shifts more for us over the length of our lives by way of our being open to the Spirit. If the Spirit was infused into us the same way it happened to the Disciples, we’d be babbling too like they did. We’d be speaking like we were drunk. “What language is Fr. Riley speaking? He never spoke that before!”
My friends, we want to know that what we say and do each day for Christ is worth our effort and commitment to him. That saying “Jesus is Lord” by the Holy Spirit has a good outcome beyond the boundaries of this world and into the good side of eternal life. The way to know it’s all worth our effort of wanting the Spirit of Pentecost to lead us is to seek the 3 gifts of Christ in this Gospel.
First, he offers peace. Our Lord’s peace is not contentment and perfect solitude in this life, as attractive as that is. We are not monks who live in a town called Spencer. As good as they are, they still have their moments, especially if they drink a little too much of their beer called Spencer Ale. Our Lord’s peace – “Peace be with you” – is the continual building up of our faith over a lifetime, trusting in the end that God will not abandon us.
Peace is most fulfilling with some holy, spiritual company, present when most needed. This is why I love the Communion of Saints. They can help us find some lost keys, or pray to Jesus to remove that cancer in us, or help my team win a Stanley Cup, which is all good. But if their prayers and presence are not there at the end, bringing God’s peace that it was all worth the effort of living “Jesus is Lord,” then I will be roundly disappointed.
2nd, instead of disappointment, I’m confident there will be for us the rejoicing of the Apostles in this Gospel setting. What was the cause for their rejoicing? They saw the Risen Lord. And so will you. It was in that moment they realized that “Jesus is Lord.”
And a 3rd way the tide shifts for us on Pentecost is the sweet breath of Jesus. Our Lord’s breath is less about smell and scent, and much more about courage, guts, and memory. The courage to let the breath of Christ lead, the guts to bring forth his Good News, and the memory to speak with accuracy what God has given to the world in his Son.
This Pentecost, I pray the Spirit may penetrate every part of your life. That he infuses you. That you will be open to God’s gracious will for you. And that we will unabashedly say by the Spirit, “Jesus is Lord.”
“Father, they are your gift to me.”
That’s the Son of God speaking about a few fishermen, a former tax collector, and whatever else they did before they were called away from their former employment and former way of life. Now, they are fishers of men and women, collecting the good taxes of eternal life.
Is there anything better than witnessing one person raise the dignity of another person? Where the one who is in some sort of bind, some great need; illness, financial woes, depression, addiction, loneliness, in prison, and more. Where the one who is in the greatest need of having their dignity raised from the pit of destruction, has it raised by the love, concern, and good actions of another?
We see this in many places, such as a hospital setting, where family members go above and beyond by way of presence, words, silence, sustained concern for their loved one. We see such dignity being raised in the ordinary, quick actions of everyday life too, where an open door will remain opened for you by the hand of a total stranger, rather than shut in your face. It’s an act of your dignity being raised as a person. If there was a skunk following you into a building, you wouldn’t hold the door open for a skunk, would you? Thus, we have greater dignity than a skunk.
We do this for each other countless times a day, sometimes without realizing it, calling it common courtesy. Its human dignity being raised on the spot. And those acts of love and kindness do not go unnoticed; nor do they go unnoticed when they are not performed.
On the 7th Sunday of Easter the Church gives us the Gospel setting of intimacy with Christ, which, I pray, we all seek and desire, as St. Stephen did in the 1st reading. He couldn’t wait to be with Jesus. In the Gospel, we see an intimacy never before seen, heard, experienced, or known by any other person, even in Old Testament times. This scene with Jesus and his Disciples is more intimate than all that God did with the great Moses in bringing his people out of Egypt, with Noah in the beautiful divine symbol of the rainbow that symbolized a covenant with the holy and divine, or with Abraham and the Lord’s promise of countless descendants.
All those previous signs, wonders, and promises accomplished through intimacy with God, do not reach the height of intimacy we see in this Upper Room setting. Here, the closeness to God is realized in the human presence of the Divine. It’s most appropriate that this intimacy with Christ occurs in a place called the Upper Room, because he takes their fisherman and tax collector dignity and raises it above that of Abraham and Moses.
“Father, they are your gift to me.” That’s God in Person speaking about mere mortals. Mortals who heeded his call, as we do. Mortals who witnessed much over 3 years; demons being cast out; thousands upon thousands being fed by a few fish and loaves of bread; raising dead bodies to life; teaching the teaching of God’s perfection in the Beatitudes. Mere mortals, whom Jesus calls his gift, who ate and drank with him, who abandoned him, who returned to him, as we pray many will do, by way of God’s mercy.
“Father, they are your gift to me.” These smelly fishermen, these tax collectors who cheat, are God’s gift to his Son. Really? That’s really cute! “I wish that where I am, they also may be with me.” God never spoke those words about Abraham or Moses. Abraham would have descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. But these simple, hard-working Disciples sitting before Jesus, they would have – and still have centuries later – descendants for Christ as numerous as the stars in 20 skies, not just one.
Jesus raises the dignity of his disciples from their knowing so little about God, to living with Him forever, and being called his friends. For that, my friends, is what we are. We are friends of God. We are friends of the Cross-Carrier. The Sufferer. The Redeemer. The Savior. A friendship that was torn asunder is now repaired in the Resurrection. Repaired not in some sort of neutral way, where two people will say, “Let’s agree to disagree, so we can live in peace.” “Let’s agree to disagree” is a neutral stance that wisely avoids anguish and bitterness.
But the Lord carries us far beyond neutrality. He calls us his gift. And he says it to the Father who is listening. Jesus has sealed us to God forever. This is our dignity that the world can’t come close to giving. This world can’t even protect the unborn child. We create stupid laws that protect their destruction, where human dignity is violently crushed.
Jesus does the polar opposite. And every professed Christian should put some of that in their pipe and smoke it for awhile. Christ sees the gift that we are, even in our weakness. He raises our dignity as Christians even beyond that of Moses and Abraham. And he tells the Father so. That’s what love looks like. And we participate in this Gospel scene, in this human giftedness, every time we do the same for others.