Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Kingdom Surprises

16 Sunday A #106

Wis 12, 13. 16-19
Ps 86
Rm 8, 26-27
Mt 13, 14-43

St. Mary’s Church, Marlboro, N.Y.
July 20, 2008

Deacon Tom Cornell

The kingdom of God is like seed scattered on the ground, some seed taking root and flourishing, some not. Jesus invites us to ponder why. The kingdom of God is like a tiny mustard seed. It grows into a bush large enough for birds of the air to nest in it. Or the kingdom is like a field with buried treasure such as one would sell all he has to purchase, or a pearl of great price, or yeast kneaded into dough. Today’s parable is of the weeds sown in a field of wheat. The farmer will let the weeds grow along with the wheat, lest in pulling them up the wheat may be damaged as well. He will wait until harvest time. Then he will order his workers to gather the wheat into his barns, and to burn the weeds in the furnace.

God is good and forgiving, our Psalm tells us. But he is also just. His mercy exceeds his justice, but justice remains. Saint Paul tells us that once we are in Christ we are dead to sin. We are saved by the gracious act of God in giving us his very self. God is great, great beyond all understanding or words to describe, but in our adoption we cry out, Abba, Father! We are saved in faith and in hope, by the incarnation, the death and the resurrection of Jesus. Into him we have been baptized. If we are truly in Christ we will do the things of Christ, the works of justice and mercy. We will feed the hungry and shelter the homeless, comfort the sorrowing, counsel the doubtful, denounce evil yet forgive injuries. This is how we will know our faith is real, by its fruit. The spirit battles against the flesh and the flesh against the spirit, Paul tells us. By the flesh he means the works of death, malicious talk, envy, greed, theft and violence. But the victory is ours, in Christ.

Pope Benedict is in Australia today, at the World Youth Festival, with almost a quarter of a million young Catholics from around the world. This pope is full of surprises. We didn’t expect him to do much traveling. He has a heart condition that makes it dangerous for him to fly long hours, and Australia is long hours from Rome. We never know what to expect from this man! Or from young people, for that matter. They are full of surprises too. We are told that today’s youth are spoiled rotten, corrupted by materialism and easy pleasure. Yet they flock to the Holy Father. We are told that faith is weak among the young. Don’t you believe that either. Look at them, wonderful young Catholics! Their faith is weak as compared to what? If we compare the faith of young Catholics today to that of previous generations, we have to admit that a lot of our elders were baptized but never really evangelized.

Today’s young Catholics are different, and they will make a difference. They are Catholics by free choice. They are here today not because of any social pressure (if there is pressure it’s in the opposite direction). They made the right choice, and they have other choices to make. Some are being called to the priesthood, to the diaconate and the religious life. Some are being called to lay ministry. All are called to holiness, all are called to witness. All have to decide how they will spend their lives’ energy. They have to make the right choices, or we are done for, done for as an American society! Maybe even as a species!

This generation has a role to play. They will not usher in the kingdom of God. Only God can do that. But they have a crucial part to play in conserving the very land that feeds us and the air we breathe and the water that sustains us, and in building structures of peace and justice in the name of the Lord. God is love and God is truth and the truth will set you free, but you have to dig for the truth! You will not learn the truth from the mass media. You will not learn the truth from any government. You will not learn the truth from any political party, or from any text book either. You have to look long and hard for it, yourself, then judge reality by the light of the Gospel, then act, alone if you have to, together if you can.

On his arrival in Australia, the Pope met first with representatives of all the major religions, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and Hindus. He told them that religion must never be a cause of hatred and division of people but rather a force for unity and peace. He said, "In a world threatened by sinister and indiscriminate forms of violence, the unified voice of religious people urges nations to resolve conflicts through peaceful means and with full regard for human dignity."

History, reality itself has moved the Church forward on questions of war and peace and social justice far beyond anything anyone imagined only as few decades ago. Some of us here remember the day in late October, 1962, when the United States and the Soviet Union came within a hair’s breadth of an exchange of hydrogen bombs that would have made this planet largely uninhabitable, the Cuban Missile Crisis. John Kennedy had his finger on the button in the White House and Nikita Khrushchev had his finger on his own button in the Kremlin, the button that would give the signal to launch an attack. We had thousands of missiles armed with nuclear warheads aimed at them and they had as many aimed at us, all our major cities. The Russian military were begging Khrushchev to push that button, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington were demanding that Kennedy push it first! John Kennedy was heard to say, as he came out of a meeting with them, “They’re crazy!” For their part, some of the military thought President Kennedy was toying with treason. “Better dead than red,” they said. Kennedy held off. Secret negotiations through the Vatican resolved the conflict. Khrushchev backed down and a deal was struck. The Soviets would pull their missiles out of Cuba and the US would pledge not to invade Cuba and pull its nuclear missiles out of Turkey.

Imagine how President Kennedy must have felt the day after, when the dust settled! When John Kennedy realized what he had almost done, how close he and Khrushchev had come to destroying everything they had pledged to defend, at that moment he had a change of heart, a profound and fundamental change, a conversion, a turn toward peace. Eight months later, in June, 1963, Kennedy addressed the Commencement at American University in Washington, announcing a strategy of peace and calling for disarmament and a nuclear test ban treaty. There he said, "Man must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind.” He went on to say, “War will exist until the distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige as the warrior does today." That was a World War II hero speaking, President John Kennedy, to be shot down five months later, by whom we still do not know!

For over fifteen hundred years, Catholics wrote their governments, each side of every war, a blank check. That had to change. The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council urged all of us to re-think war and peace with an entirely new attitude. In 1983 the bishops of our country, with the approval of Pope John Paul II, recognized nonviolence as an authentic Christian way and named Martin Luther King and Dorothy Day as models of Christian discipleship. Five years ago, in 2003, the Vatican approved a joint statement of Catholic and Mennonite theologians that made nonviolence the default position of the Catholic Church in times of conflict. From now on, no government gets a blank check! But for you and me, it is not enough to resist the war-makers. It’s not enough to denounce. We must announce a different way of living, living lives that remove the causes of war, and for that we need to pray to God for we can not do it by ourselves.

We do not know how to pray as we ought, Paul tells us. The Spirit within us prays for us, the God who revealed himself to Moses in the Burning Bush as Liberator, the God who revealed himself at last in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, the God whose mercy exceeds his justice, the God who makes his rain to fall on the just and the unjust and his sun to shine on the wicked and the good, Jesus, Brother, Lord and Savior.