Father Dan delivered this homily in May, 2009. The quotes are from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians.
Think about everything the apostles and the disciples went through with Jesus. They probably hated him a lot of the time! They must have thought sometimes, “What are you doing to us?” Think of all that happened to them in the short span of three years!
Most of them were minding their own business. Peter and Andrew and James and John were just fishing. Matthew was collecting his taxes. They were all simple people, minding their own business. They didn’t come looking for Jesus. Jesus came looking for them and said, “Come and follow me. See what I have to offer.”
What did they find? At first, it was great. It was wonderful. He changed water into wine. He walked on water. He healed people. He made the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk. It was the greatest thing in the world to be a friend of Jesus. People would probably say, “Hey, can you get me a quick audience with this guy?” They had thousands of people coming from all over to meet Jesus.
Now, that sounds like it might be a good thing at first. But it’s not a good thing. Probably every movie star, every famous rock musician would tell you that at first it’s really exciting when the crowds come. Later on, the crowds are a nightmare, because you no longer have a personal life anymore. You’ve lost it all.
Jesus said, “Peter, I’m going to stay at your house.” How exciting! Jesus is going to live in my house! Oh, my! His wife and children and mother-in-law didn’t know what was in store! The crowds came. They cut a hole in Peter’s roof. They dropped a man down to get healed. What crazy things went on! There were even crazier things. The authorities told Peter and the other disciples, “You’re no longer one of us. You’re not welcome to be with us. You’re following a man of sin.” Jesus had started breaking laws. He cured people on the Sabbath. He didn’t respect their eating habits and kosher laws. Now, they were in trouble, trouble, trouble, and more trouble.
All of a sudden, the disciples were filled with questions. Just like all of us — in our early days what we’re taught about God, about faith, about the laws we’re supposed to follow, about what’s right and wrong, imprints in our head. When what we’ve learned seems to change, there’s a shock to our system. I can tell you one of those shocks to my system was when I found that every word in the Bible wasn’t exactly like it’s written — to find out that the story of Jonah was a story, meant to teach a message. Jonah wasn’t really swallowed by a whale. God didn’t create the world in exactly seven days. This was a poem. What do you mean, that’s a poem? I didn’t like that! I had enough trouble losing Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy, and now all of a sudden I had to deal with my Scriptures going away.
The apostles had the same struggle. Everything they learned, they had to unlearn because of this new guy who came into their life and said, “It’s not about that. It’s about loving your God with everything that’s in you and loving your neighbor as yourself. And the goals you seek are very short-sighted, and they’re not leading you to anything but a bubble in the air. The things you want with everything that’s in you are just things that are here today and gone tomorrow and in the long run very meaningless.”
It was as difficult as it is to explain to a little child that someday you won’t need that dolly anymore or someday you won’t need that binky anymore or you won’t need that thumb anymore, that someday you can live in a different way. You might not even need that cigarette anymore! That’s a hard thing to learn for us! It’s hard to learn that there really is happiness when you’ve let go of that very short-sighted thing that makes you happy, the short-sighted thing that fills you with wants, the short-sighted thing that makes you want to go back to the way it used to be. When you start to discover this exciting and vibrant thing that’s right before your face, you choose each moment as a moment to be alive, to celebrate God’s presence, and to just look at everything as God does. Then you go out to share the message. The message comes from the Spirit, enters inside you, and then it goes out.
In the meantime, the disciples were struggling to unlearn what they thought they knew. As Jesus was getting ready to ascend into heaven, they asked him questions. Was He was going to restore the reign to Israel? They were still caught up in political systems.
They doubted. They came with him, they did what he said, but they doubted. They came filled with all kinds of questions and doubts. They asked him their questions, and he said, “You don’t need to know about that. Don’t worry about that.” Their people were oppressed! How could it not be their problem? They were taught forever that they would be the rulers of the world. How could it not be their problem? Unless there was something more. And Jesus said, “You will receive power when the Spirit comes.”
That power of the Spirit is what moves our “short sight” into “insight.” That power of the Spirit is what transforms our goals from the things that are here today and gone tomorrow to the things that last forever. That power of the Spirit broadens our understanding of what happiness is about, so we gradually begin to assume, “I’m happy and I’m going to be happy using whatever I have because God has already given me enough.” That power of the Spirit says to me that my power is not what I can personally do on my own, but my power comes from the One Who can do all things and invites me to be a part of God’s life and love and Kingdom.
Some of this happens naturally. The older we get – at least I’ve found — the fewer things seem important. I think back and wonder why I let myself get so excited about so many things. After fifty, life got much easier in a way. Before that, one of my kids would tell me about a traumatic experience, and I would worry about it all night while they were partying with their friends or playing basketball. I would worry about it day and night, week after week. They were done with it; they had dumped it on me. After I turned fifty, they could tell me about their trauma, and I would say, “That’s a fine mess you’ve gotten yourself into. What are you going to do about it?” I would explain what I could realistically do for them and then go to bed. What a marvelous transition. We move into these stages of life.
What God is calling us all to is to do everything with prayer. So Jesus told the disciples, Stay in Jerusalem together. Pray, and seek, seek what is God’s will for you. Seek what is the gift you have to give to the world. Seek this Christ, not looking up in the sky. Seek this Christ within, challenging you and calling you to recognize that you have all that you need right now. When we start doing that, then Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians becomes a prayer for us: “May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of Him.”
Wisdom allows us to look at what we have and figure out what we can do with it, rather than thinking of what more we want. Wisdom gives us direction to use and treasure all the experiences of life. Wisdom and revelation allow us to understand that God’s picture and God’s purpose are so much bigger than ours. Gods’ eternity is bigger than each single moment of time.
And Paul’s prayer for us goes on. This is such a beautiful phrase: “May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened.” Think of your heart having eyes. Your real eyes can only see so much. What we see now, every time we turn around, is different. Every time you turn around, it’s a different day, it’s a different moment. The eyes of the heart see beyond the physical to something, beyond time and space, that is so much deeper. And the eyes of the heart, even when the heart is sad, can bring the light and the peace that we need.
“So may those eyes of your heart be enlightened, so that you will know the hope that belongs to God’s call.” It’s a hope! It’s not a reality yet! Heaven is coming! The hoping and the anticipation should be as exciting as the reality. “Pray that you may also know what are the riches of God’s glory.” What do we have to do for the riches of God’s glory? You don’t have to do a thing. He says, Come to the water, come with open hearts, and come let Me love you.
Paul goes on, “We know what is his inheritance among the holy ones. And may we know what his surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe in the exercise of his great might. This is the God who worked in Christ, and He raised Him from the dead.”
Whatever the evil is, it’s not a threat to us, because even death is not a threat. Because Jesus showed us that death has no power over God’s way and God’s will.
“Above every principality, authority, power, and dominion, every name that is named, not only in this age but the ones to come, He put all things under His feet and gave Him over as head of the church.”
This is the Jesus that we claim. This is the Spirit that brings that Jesus to us. This is the Jesus that we’re not going to find up there. But the eyes of our hearts will be able to seek Him, to find Him, and to bring us peace.