Homily for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 7, 2007
St. Agnes, Cincinnati
(Based on Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4; Psalm 95; 1 Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14l Luke 17:5-10)
In just about 7 or 8 minutes from now you will be liberated from your present status as a captive audience. Then we will all rise and, as we have done so often, we will recite the creed that links us with Christians all around the world. We will begin by saying “we believe.” We call it our ‘profession of faith.’
And at that point we could be making a serious mistake. How could that be?
We could think that acceptance of the creed is what Jesus is talking about when he tells the disciples, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed you would say yo this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea’ and it would obey you.”
Actually Jesus is talking about something quite different from that.
What is a creed? It’s a set of formulas. You know the creed wasn’t always in the form we have it today. There were the beginnings of creeds nested in the materials of the New Testament. For example, there is the creed in the first letter to Timothy. It is only two verses long, containing four brief elements::
For these is one God.
There is also one mediator between God and the human race,
Jesus Christ, himself human,
who gave himself as ransom for all. (1 Timothy 2:5-6)
That’s it, the whole thing.
The creed we have today represents the Church’s answers to misunderstandings that have cropped up over the centuries as believers tried to understand the mystery of Jesus and the Good News. For example, early on some good Christians wrestled with the mystery and concluded that he really couldn’t have been human as we are, and especially that he couldn’t have had a real human body. He only seemed to have a body. They were affected by the pagan philosophy of their day, which considered the body evil. The church had to protect people against this error, so we read in the creed, ”He was (really) born of the virgin May; suffered under Pontius Pilate, died and was buried.” Really human. But then some others decided if he was really human he could have been really divine. And once again the church had to set a boundary: we read he was “God from God, light from light, one in being with the Father.’ Each time there was a major controversy the leaders of the church formulated the right answer to the question and added it so that all would be professing the same thing.
We need to be clear. Creeds are important. They help to keep our thinking straight. But Jesus is talking about something very different. It’s not enough to think and say the right things, as important as that can be to keep us from falling into wrong ideas about him and his mission.
Remember, elsewhere Jesus said something very challenging about our public proclamations: “Not every one who says, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom, but only those who do the will of mt Father.” In another place he says, “By their fruits you will know them.” It’s not enough to proclaim even the right words. Paul even says in First Corinthians that it’s not enough even to die for the faith if we don’t have love. Ultimately our salvation is not a matter of orthodoxy—right thinking—but about right living. It’s not just about our heads but about our hearts.
The faith that Jesus is talking about involves passion and energy and power and conviction..It’s about commitment to a person, not to a set of ideas. It’s about being single-minded in the following of the Lord, focused and refusing to be side-tracked. Jesus himself told us what it is about when he said of himself on the way up to Jerusalem and his conflict with the scribes and pharisees, “I have a baptism with which I am to be baptized, and I am on fire until it be accomplished.” Just as the two disciples put it when they returned from Emmaus where the Lord had met them in the guise of a stranger: “Were not our hearts on fire as he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?”
Finally it ‘s about radical trust that the vision—God’s vision—will be fulfilled! As the Lord tells Habakkuk to write it down: the vision will not disappoint; the death, and misery, and ruin, and destruction, and violence he was experiencing (much as we experience it today) will not prevail. It will not have the final word.
It’s all about the irresistible power of life. It’s about the word of the Lord described by Isaiah: it descends from the heavens like a gentle rain to water the earth—and it will not return to the heavens until it has completed the task for which it was sent.
If we allow the Spirit of Jesus to take root in our spirits, there is no obstacle that can prevent us. Not a mulberry tree. And not even a mountain, as he puts it in another place.
When he speaks like that, Jesus is using a very Semitic manner of speaking. You use some wildly fantastic imagery to make your point. (Incidentally, it’s good that he used such metaphors. Otherwise we’d probably have to listen to some guy saying, “Did you guys see that mountain I moved the other day? . . . Bigger than Fred’s . . . Boy, that was some mountain; thought I’d never get it.” Making it all about us, as usual.)
Real faith and conviction and commitment do move mountains. But they are the mountains of the spirit, the barriers in our souls that block the coming of the kingdom.
If we want to see that kind of faith, we need look no further than those Amish whose tragic anniversary we are remembering this weekend. You recall that a man walked into their one-room schoolhouse and systematically murdered five of their young girls. But the faith of that committed people moved the mountain of vengeance, and payback, and ‘we’ll deal with our pain by inflicting pain on them,’ which bedevils each of us and our nation and hardens our hearts. They immediately forgave the killer. They realized that his wife and children must also be in pain so they reached out to care for her. They stood at the killer’s grave as he was buried. How did they achieve such a spirituality? By a life-long, constantly renewed commitment.
And even as we speak, we watch a single, delicate—we might almost say, tiny—woman in Burma removing the mountain of indifference in her people that has permitted their oppression. It has cost her years of imprisonment but Aung San Sui Kyi has mobilized millions of her people—and the leaders of the civilized world— o say “Enough is enough!” Her commitment, her faith, is not placed in the person of Jesus, she’s a Buddhist. But her faith is surely directed to the peace that is a sign of the coming of his Father’s kingdom.
And finally we know that it was the power of Jesus’ own radical trust in the mission entrusted to him by his Father that enabled him to move the mountain of hypocrisy of the religious elite that controlled and oppressed his people. And we know what that commitment cost him.
When we rise to profess our faith today, we’re going to use some different words, words that might shake us out of our routine comfort zone and challenge us. As Deacon Royce proclaims each element, let’s stand for a period of silence and ask ourselves: Do we really believe these words? And ask the Lord to deepen the power of our commitment to act on them.
* * * * *
The re-formulated creed follows:
We believe . . . We believe that a compassionate God is creating us and this universe at this very moment, our of pure love. (Pause for silent prayer) and so we sing: Amen, amen, amen.
We believe . . . We believe that the promise of God’s kingdom will be fulfilled, in the Father’s time.(Pause) and so we sing: Amen, amen, amen.
We believe . . . We believe that the risen Christ has poured out his Holy Spirit into our hearts, has made us his body in this world, and entrusted us with his mission: to bring healing and reconciliation to his people (Pause) and so we sing: Amen, amen, amen.
We believe . . . We believe that God’s word of salvation has come down upon our earth like gentle rain and will not return to the Father until it has borne fruit and completed the work for which it was sent (Pause) and so we sing: Amen, amen, amen.
We believe ... We believe that through our Baptism into Christ we have become a new creation, empowered to love as he loved, to serve as he served, and to die to ourselves as he died to himself (Pause) and so we sing: Amen, amen, amen.
We believe . . . We believe that in Christ there is neither slave nor free, Jew nor Greek, male nor female, but all are one in the body of the one Lord (Pause) and so we sing: Amen, amen, amen.
We believe . . . we believe that we stand in the midst of a great crowd of witnesses who have passed through death; sisters and brothers in the one holy priesthood of Christ, who inspire and strengthen us with the example of their faithfulness and commitment (Pause) and so we sing: Amen, amen, amen.
Presider: It is the power of these commitments that make us one. And so in the power of this faith we dare to stand before the all-Holy One whom Jesus invited us to call our Father, and so we sing: Our Father . . .