Welcome to the Board of Directors.
The Order of Matins begins on p. 219ff. Please Stand.
Hymn of the Day: 539 Christ Is the World's Redeemer
26"When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father—he will testify about me. 27And you also are going to testify, because you have been with me from the beginning."
16:1"I have told you these things so that you will not fall away. 2They will put you out of the synagogues. In fact, a time is coming when anyone who murders you will think he is offering a service to God. 3They will do these things because they have not known the Father or me. 4But I have told you these things so that when their time comes, you may remember that I told them to you."
Easter Responsory, p. 222
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I think in our day it is easy to hear a reading like this and to think right away of the growing hostility that the world shows to our faith. But I don't think in that case we'd really be grasping what Jesus is getting at here. You see, the world never puts anyone out of the synagogue, the gathering of people to hear God's Word read and preached. The world may well murder Christians (and it has and does), but it doesn't think that doing so is in any way offering some sort of service, latria, liturgy, to God. The world doesn't care about offering anything to God. No, to take the words of today's Gospel and apply them to opposition from the world is to miss something vital.
From the get go, the hatred was on two fronts. The pressure of the world to conform to its ideas, to be governed by its values, to validate its lies. And yes, Caesar still can get testy on this point as we readily see and shouldn't be the least bit surprised about. But the other front is the one Jesus was dealing with in today's reading. The opposition that arises from within the assembly of those who gather to hear and ponder the Word. One name comes to mind right away, doesn't it? Saul of Tarsus.
Here's a man who put folks out of the synagogues, consented to the death of Christ's witness, His martyr, St. Stephen after Stephen courageously testified about Him, and who zealously absconded with Christians property, threw men and women into jail, and decided they deserved the death penalty. And he did it all for the glory of God. All in good conscience and with the conviction that God was pleased with Him and delighted in such zeal for His law, such repudiation of a manifest fraud.
"He came to His own and His own received Him not." And they THEY came to their own and their own received them not either.
But have you ever wondered what it was about Jesus and about the message He gave His apostles to carry that could produce such a visceral and vicious reaction from people who loved and listened all the time to God's Word? What is it about Jesus that ticked off those like Saul? What could possibly produce this murderous hatred?
I don't think we need to hunt further than the story Jesus told in Luke 15. "This man receives sinners and eats with them…" The love of the Father for the son who had gotten lost and so was dead, but who came back and was welcomed, embraced, and all without asking him to make reparations or do anything. Just welcomed back because he was his son and he loved him. And then the old brother. Here's the opposition in today's reading. The older brother who is ticked off. "Look, these many years I have served you and never disobeyed your command." He feels so angry, so taken for granted, so presumed on, when his life of trying to please his father and do his father's will is, apparently, no better than that of his father's other son who broke every commandment with impunity and crept back home with his tail between his legs only to be welcomed? Loved? Celebrated? Seriously? NO WAY.
Have you ever dwelt on the tenderness of the Father's response? He doesn't yell at the older son. He doesn't shame him any more than he shamed his younger brother. He speaks to him with such tenderness: "Son, you are with me always. All that is mine is yours. Share my joy. It was fitting for us to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead and is alive again, was lost and is found."
Just like he dealt in mercy with Saul in all his self-righteous blindness. Just like he deals with you and me. Jesus really does welcome sinners and eats with them. And he pats the seat beside himself and says: "You too. Come on, join in. Let it go. You qualify" And when you imagine: "But wait a cotton pickin minute. They need to repent. They need to at least try to turn their lives around. It's not fair." He responds with kindness and love: "No, not fair at all. Come and enter into my joy. Here's the gift of a brother or sister for you to come to know and to treasure. And I want you to be a free son and not a slave."
Maybe if the Church has stopped having opposition from the religious, from hearers of the Word, I wonder if its because we've stopped following our Lord and have sounded a false gospel; at least if people have heard from us a false gospel. "You have to at least try. You have to repent, you have to give it your best at going and sinning no more, then the Lord will forgive you." Whereas the gospel that upset Saul, together with all the lovers of the Law among the first century Jews, was rather: "Where are you accusers? Neither do I condemn you; now go and sin no more. Take heart, your sins are forgiven!" Do you hear the vital difference?
People loved by God, I dare say that if WE honestly proclaimed the Christ whose love upon His cross simply reaches out and continuously embraces each of us and absolutely everyone else, just as we and they actually are, and without any conditions or limits; if we learned from Him to embrace and welcome each fellow sinner and not imply to that person how they need to change or at least try, in order to be loved, but trust that the love of Christ in which we hold them tight is the power — the ONLY power that ever changes a person, then it wouldn't be long before the outcries would happen again: "What are you all up to!?! You're not taking sin seriously! You've got to fix people; you can't just love them. What are you thinking!" Wouldn't that be a blessed thing? Not merely to have the opposition from the world that arises when we proclaim God's Law, but to have the opposition from the religious that arises when we preach the authentic Gospel? May God grant us such troubles and may they come soon! Amen.
Please stand. We continue with the Kyrie on page 227