15 Sunday B - Mission - Sent Out

Cn Treasures Thomas O’Loughlin
Introduction to the Celebration

We assemble as a people who have been called to be bearers of God’s love to all humanity. Each of us is called to be a witness to God’s presence in the world in some unique way in some unique part of the creation. Each of us has been sent out by the Christ to proclaim good news, announce forgiveness, and to build the kingdom of peace. This is the reality of vocation. And thinking about and celebrating our individual vocations is something we are going to do today.

Michel DeVerteuil
Textual Comments
This passage contains several separate sections. Each has an important message for us today.

1. Jesus summoned the Twelve.
He selected a group of people who he felt would be able to represent him before the world. He called  them by name so that he could send them into the world not merely as a group, but as individuals.
These disciples then received a mission from Jesus: to make the world a little more as Jesus wants it to be. This is always his work – to take the world as it is and make it the kind that he will be able to offer to God as a fragrant offering in his sight.
Jesus calls disciplesThis work always has two dimensions. On the one hand it must help people become more committed to being closer to him as their Lord.  As they develop within themselves an ever closer relationship with him, they must strive to become more and more like him.
A further purpose of the work is to help the world become more fervent in the Lord’s service. The world must become a place where people will be able to do Jesus’ work among their fellow men and women.
Jesus began to send them out in pairs. This was an important aspect of their mission – they must work together.
Jesus teaches apostles1He also gave them authority over unclean spirits. They must go among those members of the human race who control and influence what is wrong in the world. The true spirit of God will always prevent us from looking at those different from ourselves as evil-doers or wrong in some way; an “evil spirit” always works against this.
We as true disciples of Jesus are reminded of times when we too felt within ourselves a desire to  “summon” a group of disciples. We wanted them to be more like us. We wanted to send them out into the world to make it more as we would like it to be. The passage is telling us that when we feel like that we are closer to the spirit of Jesus.

2. Jesus gave them instructions:
The first of these was very simple: they must take nothing for the journey “except a staff”. This means two big things nowadays:
– that we must bring something of ourselves to the people we meet in the world; we come to others with our own opinions, our own view of the world;
– that this personal thing we are bringing must not be something for ourselves and against others.
The passage then tells us in some detail what this “nothing extra” really means:
– “no bread” –  nothing extra to eat, nothing that we can claim as our own, nothing that we could draw on in case our method demands a special sacrifice from us;
– “no haversack” – nothing that we could store for the next day in case things get rough; we must go as we are with no special requirements;
– “no coppers for their purses”, nothing that could be put in place for our personal source of sustenance.
– They were to “wear sandals” and “not take a spare tunic” – have nothing extra to keep for a future day when things might be different.
Jesus then gives them additional instructions:
– Once they have entered a house they are to stay there until they leave the district, staying wherever people are willing to receive them and not moving around looking for a place where they will be even more welcome.
– If people refuse to listen to them, they must shake the dust off their feet: they must not hold on to a rejection as something that defines them from then on. They must move on in perfect freedom. This will be a clear sign to all as to what has really happened between the giver and the receiver of the message.

Prayer Reflection
“Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”    Oscar Wilde
Lord, in the world today it is taken for granted that if we want to spread a message
we need an advertising campaign with glamorous images on television,
live simplycatchy jingles on the radio, posters in public places.
Of course, this requires plenty of money.
We followers of Jesus seem to think
we too must adopt this way of spreading the message.

But for Jesus the truth of his message was the most important thing.
This is why, when he summoned the Twelve and sent them out,
giving them authority over unclean spirits,
he instructed them to take nothing for the journey –
no bread, no haversack, no coppers for their purses;
they must wear sandals and not take a spare tunic.
Lord, help us to enter into the mind of Jesus.
Lord, forgive us that we think we can do your work alone,
forgetting that we are all in need:
– men and women must complement each other;
– while each of us has gifts, we also have defects that others must make up for;
– those who disagree with us bring a new dimension to our ideas;
– our church needs the gifts of other churches.
Remind us that unless we are sent out in pairs
we will not have authority over the unclean spirits of our society.
off in pairs“Do not move from insight to insight, but let each one rest in your heart. Theophane Venard, mystic of the early Church
Lord, often when we read the bible we move quickly from one line to another,
from one thought to the next.
But you send your words as Jesus sent the Twelve,
to enter deeply into our inner dwelling and to remain there,
nourishing and reconciling everything in us.
Lord, when people reject us we feel a lot of anger,
anger that keeps us in bondage,
holding us back like mud on our feet.
Help us, Lord, as we walk away, to shake the dust from under our feet,
so that we may be free to give ourselves to others.
As a social force a university should enlighten and transform the society in which it lives and for which it should live.”   Ignacio Ellacuria, one of the six Jesuits killed in El Salvador, December 1989
Lord, we pray for all those who work in teaching institutions.
Don’t let us remain turned in on ourselves;
send us out as Jesus sent his disciples.
Many people are complacent – help us to go out and teach them repentance.
There are terrible demons abroad: materialism, individualism, racism, sexism –
help us to cast them out.
There are many sick people, the lonely, the downtrodden, the victims of discrimination –
help us to anoint them with oil and to cure them.
commit to Jesus“I have a great fear in my heart that one day, when they turn to loving, they will find we have turned to hating.”   A black priest in Alan Paton’s book about South Africa, Cry the Beloved Country
Lord, preserve us from rejecting the hand of friendship,
lest we find one day that those we want to love
have shaken the dust from under their feet as a sign to us.
Homily Notes
1. Sometime between the Council of Trent (mid-sixteenth century) and the French Revolution (late-eighteenth century) a radical shift took place — almost without anyone noticing — in how priesthood, the other grades of Holy Orders, formal ministry, and vocation were viewed within Catholic spirituality. In effect, the notion of vocation, ministry, and order became coalesced into one package. This had the effect of removing the notion of vocation from all but priests. So, for example, if a man became a monk, it was assumed he would go ‘all the way’ and become a priest; meanwhile, the choice of becoming a religious brother, who was not a priest but could become one, became, for many, inexplicable. Similarly, although less obviously, individual Christians were not considered as having a vocation: they simply had jobs alongside of which they had religious obligations.
vocation questionWhen, in the early twentieth century, it was realised that a layperson might have a role in the work of Christ, this could no longer be handled with the notion of vocation, and therefore a new category called ‘an apostolate’ had to be invented. In short, clergy had vocations (some of which were in religious communities); women had vocations to religious life (they became nuns), while other people could have ‘an apostolate’ (but this was little more than some job or other that might fit with the practical agenda of the church).
3. How does one tackle this deep-seated confusion within Catholic spirituality? The place to begin is to note that ‘vocation’ and ‘ministry’ are two distinct realities within the life of the People of God.
•    Vocation relates to an individual and her / his life and work and witness. In the unique situation in time and space where I exist, I am called to be the presence of the love of God, a follower of his Christ, and a temple of his Spirit.
•    Ministry relates to the services that the community of the church needs its members to perform towards one another so that it can fulfill the church’s (as a single body) vocation to be the body of Christ and the People of God. These ministries are as diverse as the Petrine ministry and the person who distributes the newsletters, some relate to the sacred mysteries (e.g. the presbyterate) and some are transitory and needed in only some places at certain times.
An individual’s vocation includes her/his ministry; but one’s vocation must never be reduced to being equated with one’s ministry. For the individual, vocation is always more embracing, more all encompassing, and more demanding than any or all of the ministries she / he fulfills.

4. The task that faces every one of us, as baptised persons, is:
•    to become conscious that we have a vocation,
•    to become aware that we all have several sub-vocations linked to the various situations in which we live: as       spouse, parent, child, friend, fellow worker …,
my life.1
•    to discern what it calls for us to do,
•    to value our unique talents,
•    to grow in awareness of God’s call as ever present in our lives,
•    to become aware of how one’s vocation changes as one’s life-situation changes, and
•    to pray for the help to fulfill one’s vocations.
Moreover, we have to pray that we will be given the strength and perseverance that our individual path of discipleship may call us to follow. While we all hope that our vocation will not take us into extreme situations, we have only to think of the extreme situations to see how personal and all-embracing vocation can be. How often has it happened that suddenly someone has realised that his/her vocation also included martyrdom: they had lived a quiet life, now the world changed, and witness was demanded in a new and total way? How often has someone had to face suffering from a chronic disease, and there had to discover the presence of God and a new way of giving witness to the God of love? Vocation is personal, on going, and demanding.
5. Vocation is often surprising, and it is that zest in individual Christians that allows us to see the Spirit at work in the church. It is in following our vocations – and Amos is a perfect example of this – that we discover the cost of discipleship.
6. The challenge for the community of the church that is highlighted in today’s Liturgy of the Word is to know how the community can help the individuals who make up that community to discover their different vocations. Alas, we put a lot of energy into recruiting ministers; we are not nearly so good in this more delicate and more fundamental task.
7. However, it is worth remembering that the vitality and joy of any Christian community is directly proportional to the extent to which its members have come to own, and respond to, their vocations. In a community made up of people with a keen sense of their vocations and their special talents, it then becomes a matter of linking skills to needs so that all the ministries that the church needs are fulfilled.
Sean Goan
Jesus washing feetAfter his apparent lack of success in Nazareth, Jesus embarks on the next stage of the work of spreading the kingdom. He challenges his apostles to share in his radical trust in the Father as they go forward, believing that the power they have is from God and knowing that the message is one of repentance — that is, true conversion of heart. Their task is an urgent one and they are not to delay. It is worth recalling that when they were first called by Jesus it was ‘to be with him’. Now, having been with him and coming to know him, they are empowered to do as he has done.
These readings show us two sides of the same coin that is faith in God. A genuine faith involves both a grateful recognition of what is given and also a desire to be changed from within and to live accordingly. The people Amos was talking to had plenty of religion — they said their prayers on the Sabbath and offered sacrifices to their God — but this was merely ritual and they had no compunction in exploiting their fellow citizens for the rest of the week.

trust in jesus*****
Go now you are sent forth,
To live what you proclaim;
To show the world you follow Christ 
In fact, not just in name.

Go now, you are sent forth
To walk the troubled earth.
To share your faith with all you meet
And prove your real worth.

Go now, you are sent forth
As God's ambassador;
By serving Christ in those we meet
We love him more and more.

Go now, you are sent forth
And Christ goes with you, too.
Today you help his kingdom come
In everything you do.
 (Fr. John Speakman)
From the Connections:

In today’s Gospel, the Twelve – each of whom has been called personally by Jesus – are given the title of apostle – “one who is sent.”  These unlikely candidates for such a task are carefully prepared and taught by Jesus for this moment.  They undertake their first preaching and healing tour depending only on God for their inspiration and on the charity of others for their needs -- remember that hospitality was considered a sacred responsibility in the east: it was not up to the stranger to seek hospitality but up to the prospective host to offer it.
Like the Twelve’s journey through the region of Galilee, our lives are journeys to the reign of God.  Each step of the journey can be a moment of grace, of encounter with the holy, of rebirth and transformation, of healing. 
God calls all of us to the vocation of prophet (“one who proclaims”) and disciple (“one who follows, one who comprehends”).  Like God’s call to the Amoses and Ezekiels, to the Peters and Andrews of Scripture, ours is a call to proclaim our faith in our places of work, study and play, to follow Christ in his vision of justice, peace and reconciliation.
Jesus instructs his missioners to “travel light” – to focus on the journey and the ministry with which they have been entrusted, not with accumulating wealth, status and power.
In our hospitality and welcome to those who come to our doors, we joyfully profess our faith in Christ, the Servant of God, and our hope to realize his vision of one human family under the loving providence of the Father.

Walking sticks
She begins her program with Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.  Her fingers dance over the frets of her guitar with the quiet confidence of her years of practice and study.  She next plays into an Irish air, then a Bob Dylan folk song and finally a jazz improvisation of her own creation.  She plays for an audience of one: a 70-year-old woman dying of cancer.  The venue: the dying woman’s room at the local hospice.  Music is her ministry, providing a measure of peace and tranquility for those taking the last steps from this world into eternity. 
Most spring and summer nights, as soon as he gets home from the office, he heads to his small garden behind the garage.  This quarter-acre is his favorite place on earth.  He grows tomatoes, beans and corn.  He saves a few things for his own family; he shares the rest of the harvest of the good earth with needy families served by the local soup kitchen and pantry.
She suffered from bulimia as a teenager.  Thanks to her wise and caring family, she overcame this devastating disease.  Now a mother herself, she read about a support group for girls suffering from eating disorders.  Every week she is there.  She says very little; she is there to listen and to support, and when asked one-on-one by a girl who is terrified at what is happening to her, she offers the hope of her own story.

With their “walking sticks” — guitars, vegetable seeds, and their own stories and experiences — these three and so many others like them realize that Christ has sent them forth, like the Twelve in today’s Gospel, to be his prophets of peace, apostles of compassion, ministers of healing.  Aware of God’s love in our own lives, we are called to bring that love into the lives of others in a spirit of humility and gratitude.  As we make our own journey from this world to the next, may we heal the broken and help the stumbling we meet along our way in faithfulness to the God who heals us and helps us up when we stumble and fall.

From Fr. Jude Botelho:
In today's first reading we are told that Amos spoke out against the evil practices that people indulged in daily life, while at the same time keeping up the external religious practices. The local temple priest Amaziah speaks out against Amos and asks him to go back home. Amos was opposed because his message struck home; he was opposed because he himself being poor spoke of the evil that stemmed from riches and greed. Amos' humble answer was that he was no professional prophet, he was a simple herdsman, but he was prophesying because the Lord called him and asked him to speak in His name. True prophets are not self-appointed, nor are they appointed by popular choice but are called by God alone to fulfill this mission. Today too those who speak in the name of religion are not accepted.

His religion ought to come out of his fingers
A minister was being shown through a section of a Detroit automobile factory by the foreman. Among the workers was a parishioner of the minister, a fellow named John. Knowing that John was a skilled mechanic the minister remarked, "I guess John is one of your best workers." "Sorry to disagree," replied the foreman. "True, he could be one of our best, but John stands around talking about his religion, when he should be attending to his machine. Personally, he is a fine fellow, and he is a good man when he works, but he still has to learn that when he is running that machine, his religion ought to come out of his fingers and not out of his mouth."
Msgr. Drinkwater

In the gospel we see Jesus giving instructions to the twelve as he sends them out on their mission. We are reminded that he first called them and then he sent them out two by two and gave them authority as they went forth. Thereby we are reminded that coming to Jesus precedes going out in His name. If we have not come to Jesus then we do not receive His power and authority and Spirit. The rhythm of the Christian life is summarized in the two words: 'Come' and 'Go.' We come in prayer and contemplation to the Lord in order to go out in loving service. As Jesus sends the disciples on their mission he warns them about what to expect, that they will not always be accepted by the people. They have to remember that the message is not to be forced on people. Faith is always an invitation to believe, not a command that has to be obeyed. What is especially noteworthy of the instructions that Jesus gave to his disciples before he sent them, is that he does not mention anything of what they were to say, rather, he stresses the kind of lives they should live. What Jesus is thereby driving home is the fact that the witness of their life will be the greatest sermon they will ever deliver. He does not want professionals who have honed in their skills but people who live what they believe. The disciples must give witness to their own faith by what they do, and what they hold precious, thus by their example they will lead people to the kingdom of God. Jesus thus emphasizes the attitudes that they should have in their life and the values that should guide their day-to-day living rather than the doctrine that they should preach. At times we tend to shirk our responsibility to live our prophetic calling saying that we are not good speakers, that we do not have leadership qualities, and that we don't have any experience. God needs us as we are, and where we are now, not our capabilities, and our future plans!

Friend, Lend Me Your Hands!
The Korean war was raging and a little village came under artillery fire. In the village stood a Catholic Church and outside the church mounted on a pedestal, there was a fine statue of Christ. However when the smoke of battle cleared away, the statue had disappeared. It had been blown off its pedestal and lay in fragments on the ground. A group of American soldiers helped the priest to dig out and collect up the bits and pieces. Carefully they helped him to put the statue together again. They found all the pieces except the hands. They offered to have the statue flown back to America and have hands made for it. But the priest refused. "I have a better idea," he said. "Let's leave it as it is without the hands. And let's write on the pedestal for all passersby to see the words: FRIEND, LEND ME YOUR HANDS. In that way we may get them to see that Christ has no hands but ours with which to raise the fallen. He has no feet but ours to seek the lost. He has no ears but ours to listen to the lonely. He has no tongue but ours to speak words of sympathy, of comfort, and of encouragement to those weighed down by sorrow, pain and failure".
Flor McCarthy in 'Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies'

"We Christians, bishops, priests and people, in our manifold ways are called to be disciples, often as healers and teachers, sometimes as reluctant prophets as Amos. But I wonder if we carry too much baggage. It's not merely the things that we stuff in our luggage or carry along with our entourage. It may be all the excess trappings of power, privilege and money. It may be crusty ideology and pet theories. As an old woman from North Saint Louis used to say: "I'd rather see a sermon lived than talked."
John Kavanaugh in 'The Word Encountered'

Be the Prophet!
One winter's day a man came upon a small boy sitting begging on a wind-swept city bridge. The boy was shivering from the cold and obviously in need of a good meal. On seeing him the man got very angry and said to God: "God why don't you do something about this boy?" And God replied, "I have already done something about him." This surprised the man so he said, "I hope you don't mind me saying this, but whatever you did, it doesn't seem to be working." "I agree with you there," replied God. "By the way, what did you do?" the man asked. "I made you" came the reply. -There is nothing wrong in asking God to right wrongs and comfort the suffering. But we must remember that he has entrusted these tasks to us.

Flor McCarthy, in 'New Sunday & Holy Day Liturgies'

My Father Owns the Shop!
There was a programme on American television where three or four people were given trolleys in a supermarket and given a certain time to fill them with groceries. The winner was decided as the one who had the highest bill at the checkout. A whistle blew and the stampede began! They bumped into each other; items missed the trolley as they were thrown from a distance. When the time was up and they made their way to have their goodies checked, they looked into each others’ trolleys, they saw the things they had missed, they were annoyed with themselves at some of their stupid choices etc. Now let me present that scenario again, except this time we give the trolley to a committed Christian. We have the whistle, the stampede and everything all over again, except that our Christian friend is seen to act very differently. He strolls along at ease. He put a loaf of bread, some milk, butter, and sugar in his trolley. He picks up an item that fell from one of the other trolleys and put it in the trolley. The final whistle blows and they arrive at the check point. Immediately our friend gets every one's attention. Their first reaction is a combination of mockery, puzzlement, and anger. One of them said, "Who let you out? Did no body tell you what this is all about? Why are you laid-back, and why didn't you go for it, like the rest of us? The young man smiled and replied, "My Father owns the supermarket!"-Being out there in the world, giving Christian witness, is supposed to make a major difference!
Jack McArdle, in 'And that's the Gospel truth'

Trust in God
Once a knight set out on a long journey. He tried to foresee all the possible problems and dangers he was likely to encounter, and to take precautions against them. He took a sword and a suit of armour in case he met an enemy. He took a jar of ointment to guard against sunburn. He took an axe to chop wood for a fire at night. He took a tent and several blankets. He took pots and pans for cooking. And of course he took a sack full of oats for his horse. Thus heavily laden, he set forth. However, he hadn't gone very far when he came to a rickety old bridge which straddled a deep gorge. He was only halfway across when the bridge collapsed under him, and he fell into the gorge and got killed.- When Jesus sent out his apostles he urged them to place complete confidence in God and not in things. God would take care of their needs.
Flor McCarthy, in 'New Sunday & Holy Day Liturgies'

Your Contribution is Important!

The mayor of a certain town decided to hold a harvest festival. All, without exception, were invited. The mayor himself offered to provide the food. To ensure that there would be adequate wine, each guest was asked to bring along a bottle of white wine. The wine would be poured into a huge cask from which all could drink. The day of the festival arrived. Everyone in town showed up. Thanks to the generosity of the mayor, there was an abundance of food. Each guest duly arrived with a bottle of wine and poured it into the cask. When all was ready the mayor went to the cask. An aide tapped it and filled the mayor's glass. Holding up the glass, the mayor said, 'I declare the festival open.' Then he took a drink out of the glass only to discover that it was not wine but water. It seems that each guest had argued like this: 'My contribution won't be missed.' So instead of bringing a bottle of wine they had brought a bottle of water. The festival was ruined! It is a great challenge to us all to be active, not passive followers of Christ; to be not only receivers but also givers. Something is asked of every person. And everybody's contribution, no matter how small, is important. For the forest to be green the individual trees must be green.
Anthony Castle in 'Quotes and Anecdotes'

From Fr. Tony Kadavil:   hy not the Best?
Jimmy Carter, the former president, in his autobiography, Why not the Best? shares an incident that made him aware of his failure in his mission to bear witness to Christ by evangelizing. Each year the congregation of Plains Baptist Church held a one-week revival service. In preparation for the week, the leaders of the congregation would visit the irregular and non-churched members and invite them to the services. As a deacon, Carter always participated in this exercise. He would always visit a few homes, read the Scriptures and have prayer, share some religious beliefs; then he would talk about the weather and crops and depart. One day Carter was asked to speak at a church in Preston, Georgia. The topic he was assigned was "Christian Witnessing." As he sat in his study writing and thinking, he decided he would make a great impression upon the audience by sharing with them how many home visits he made for God. He figured in the fourteen years since returning from the Navy he had conducted 140 visits. As Carter sat there, he began to reflect on the 1966 governor’s election. As he campaigned for the state’s highest office, he spent sixteen to eighteen hours a day trying to reach as many voters as possible. At the conclusion of the campaign, Carter calculated that he met more than 300,000 Georgians. As he sat in his study the truth became evident to him. "The comparison struck him--300,000 visits for myself in three months, and 140 visits for God in fourteen years!” Today’s gospel reminds us that each Christian is sent with a preaching and evangelizing mission.

2: Gideon’s army and Jesus’ fishermen:
An angel spoke directly to Gideon (Judges 6: 11-25), the fourth judge of the Israelites in the 12th century B.C. This two-way conversation is recorded in detail and comprises the commissioning of Gideon to be a deliverer and “Judge” of God's people. The angel of the Lord came to meet Gideon under the oak tree at Ophrah with specific instructions for a raid on the Midianites who were the controlling force in the land, fielding a unique and fast-moving camel battalion. They forcefully reaped all the grain of the Israelites during the harvest season for seven years. Gideon protested that his clan, Manasseh, was the weakest in the nation. But God gave the assurance to Gideon, "But I will be with you, and you shall strike down the Midianites, every one of them" (v 16). Gideon asked for a sign from God and God graciously gave it to convince Gideon that it was God who was sending him to fight and it was God who would be fighting for him. In Judges 7:2-11 God gave additional instruction to Gideon and asked him to send home those soldiers who were afraid to fight a strong and big army. That reduced the number of soldiers in Gideon’s army from 32,000 to 10,000. But it was still too many in God’s sight. God further instructed Gideon to conduct a water-drinking test in the river which eliminated 9700 more soldiers leaving behind only 300 soldiers of God’s selection. The story of Gideon's calling was about strategy: "Go in my strength." The Midianites had a force of 135,000 men with them when they invaded Israel in the 8th harvest season. But Gideon trusted in the strength of the Lord and defeated and destroyed the mighty army of the Midianites by his surprise midnight attack. Today’s gospel tells us how Jesus selected and delegated twelve ordinary men for his preaching and healing ministry.

3: Let people hear it:
Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962), the world-famous violinist, earned a fortune with his concerts and compositions, but he generously gave most of it away. So, when he discovered an exquisite violin on one of his trips, he wasnt able to buy it. Later, having raised enough money to meet the asking price, he returned to the seller, hoping to purchase that beautiful instrument. But tohis great dismay it had been sold to a collector. Kreisler made his way to the new owners home and offered to buy the violin. The collector said it had become his prized possession and he would not sell it. Keenly disappointed, Kreisler was about to leave when he had an idea. "Could I play the instrument once before it is consigned to silence?" he asked. Permission was granted, and the great virtuoso filled the room with such heart-moving music that the collectors emotions were deeply stirred. "I have no right to keep this violin to myself," he exclaimed. "Its yours, Mr. Kreisler. Take it into the world, and let people hear it." Jesus gives us the same instruction the collector gave Kreisler when He shares with us the mission He gives the Apostles today in the Gospel.

From Father James Gilhooley

A pastor bankrupt his parish giving away wood to the poor to bring warmth to their homes in bitter winter. When he had no money left, he sold the rectory Chippendale dining room furniture for more wood. He was ridiculed by his peers for being a bad administrator. He was embraced by Christ on his death.
From Sermons.Com:

In the opera Faust, there is a fight to the finish between Satan and the young man Valentine. During the course of the fight, Satan breaks Valentine's sword and he stands poised to slay him. But the young boy takes the two pieces of his sword and fashions them into a cross. Confronted with this symbol of faith, Satan becomes immobilized and Valentine is saved.

It is an interesting concept: A dramatic demonstration of faith. Unfortunately such resolution of faith does not always save you. In fact, it might be your deathbed. It was John's. Take a look at the story with me. John has been arrested by King Herod. And why? Because John kept reminding Herod that even the king is not above the law. He said, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife."

So this was the king's egregious sin. He had stolen his brother's wife, Herodias. Now, it would be understandable if this were where the story ended. The king didn't like a desert preacher calling him a sinner so he had him beheaded. Simple enough. But life is not always simple...

This summer saw the "resurrection" of an old tale of family rivalry and betrayal. The show that started an industry of prime time "soap operas" is back on the air. Do you know show I'm talking about? . . . . Dallas.

The ever-evil "J.R." Ewing and all his battling, back-biting, embittered family have returned, with new generations, all of whom are admirably carrying on the family tradition of unabated greed and hatred. Added to yet another season of "Kardashians" and the History channel's presentation of "The Hatfields and the McCoys," "family life" is looking pretty grim. That is not even to mention the recent scientific study that put a question mark over the value of nightly meals together as a family. It found that eating together on a regular basis could be bad, not good for teenagers, if the family is dysfunctional. The family routine of eating together is very good for you if the family dynamics are good, very bad for you if the family dynamics are dysfunctional.

l air-wave examples of families operating at "dysfunction junction" cannot hold a candle to the massive relational meltdown that was taken as "normal" within the first century ruling family of the Herodians...
Who's the Boss?

The boss was complaining in our staff meeting the other day that he wasn't getting any respect. Later that morning he went to a local sign shop and bought a small sign that read:

"I'm the Boss!" He then taped it to his office door. Later that day when he returned from lunch, he found that someone had taped a note to the sign that said: "Your wife called, she wants her sign back!"

John loses his head but gains the kingdom. Herod saved his face but lost his soul. Here there is another triumph in the midst of suffering. John's martyrdom is not a defeat. Twelve more preachers are sent in his place. Ironically even Herod suspected that John would ultimately triumph when he said, "John, the man I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!"

Soren Kierkegaard said, "The tyrant dies and his rule ends, the martyr dies and his rule begins." God raises the dead and raises new witnesses to take their place.

Jim Hammond, Christ Rules, Herod Drools!

Evil Does Not Win

Yes, there are times that we wonder about God. It is true there is horrible evil out there. There are evil people - the sociopaths, the mass murders, the vicious child and spouse abusers. There are evil moments when otherwise good people are drawn in - that scene played over and over on TV several years ago of a dozen police officers beating and kicking a wounded suspect. There are evil systems in which we all participate - people going without food and shelter in a nation of abundance, people not getting medical care because of no other reason than lack of money (and greedy insurance companies). There are even evils born of sheer stupidity, like the stupid promise Herod made to Salome. Do you remember the novelist William Burroughs? Burroughs died at age 83. During a drunken party in Mexico one night in 1951, he undertook to play William Tell - he used a pistol to shoot a glass off his wife's head. He missed...and put a bullet in her brain instead. How stupid. How evil. Yes, it often seems that the evil wins.

But the message of our faith says that evil does not have the last word. God does, and the word is "love."

David E. Leininger, When Evil Wins
Vengeance: A Wound on Our Own Souls

When I was in high school, a friend of mine was raped and if I had known at the time who had done it, I would have attempted to beat him within an inch of his life. I even had some terrible fantasies of vengeance that involved very sharp knives. These feelings seem more than a desire for justice. If my friend had to go through life with a deep psychological wound, I wanted the assailant to feel some kind of pain too.

I could convince myself of noble intentions to protect someone I loved, or that the perpetrator would never again harm someone. But in honesty, I felt an inner rage that wanted satisfaction. There was a desire that somehow the pain and brokenness could be healed or assuaged by inflicting it back on the source. Of course, things never work out that way. Hurting another person cannot heal the person we love. It only pulls us down to the level of the perpetrator. The act of vengeance creates wounds on our own souls. It is a great spiritual challenge to live in a world where things cannot always be made right again.

Todd Weir, Head on a Platter

Naming What Is Wrong

Once when I was a little girl, I saw news footage in which grown men and women screamed and ranted at another little girl outside a school in Mississippi. When the newsman said that she was 12, my age at the time, something inside me broke. In my sheltered world, so-called colored children and white children had always gone to the same schools, and grown-ups didn't threaten kids. "Why are they yelling at her like that?" I asked my mother in tears. "She's only a little girl." My mother made the sigh adults make when children learn things no one should have to learn. "Because they're ignorant," she said finally, my family's catch-all phrase for explaining things that will never make sense. It wasn't enough of an explanation, and that was a first lesson, too.

But the real lesson was that doing good and right things cannot protect you from being badly hurt. There is real danger in naming what is wrong in the world and trying to change it.

Why is this awful story even mentioned in the Bible? Well, it just might be that some of us who try to follow Christ have been following too safe a course, sitting in mighty comfortable seats at the banquet, so much so that we need this awful story to help us ask if we are following the One whose way was full of danger and whose final destination was a cross.

Catherine Taylor, Re-Membering Faith

A Christian Understanding of Worth

When we attempt to live a life worthy of the Gospel it is because our understanding of "worth" is far different from the world's. John the Baptist was not beheaded because he went along with the status quo. John gave his life because of his commitment to truth as he understood it, much like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his struggles with Nazism and Hitler. Being a pastor in the German Lutheran Church, Bonhoeffer was forced to choose between his loyalty to God or to an insane ruler. He was executed in 1945 for the opposition he voiced to the satanic rule of Hitler.

As G.K. Chesterton so concisely wrote: "It is not that Christianity has been tried and found wanting, but tried and found difficult." Life has many roads to travel. However, we choose the road on which the shadow of the cross falls. It always leads to freedom and to victory when the final lap of the race is run. Some 2000 years later, we speak of the reigns of the Herods and Caesars with pity and disdain, but the names of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ live on as those for whom life was lived with devotion and courage.

Eric S. Ritz, Faith in Conflict

Public Pressure

Lloyd J. Ogilve, in his book Life without Limits, tells the story of a pastor who in the space of one week heard the following comments from various people:

A woman said, "I'm under tremendous pressure from my son these days. I can't seem to satisfy him, however hard I work. He really puts me under pressure."

A young man said, "My parents have fantastic goals for me to take over the family business. It's not what I want to do, but their pressure is unbearable."

A college woman said, "I'm being pressured by my boyfriend to live with him before we are married. You know...sort of try it see if we are right for each other."

A husband said, "My wife is never satisfied. Whatever I do, however much I make, it's never enough. Life with her is like living in a pressure cooker with the lid fastened down and the heat on high."

A secretary said, pointing to her phone, "That little black thing is driving me silly. At the other end of the line are people who make impossible demands and think they are the only people alive."

A middle-aged wife said, "My husband thinks my faith is silly. When I feel his resistance to Christ, I wonder if I'm wrong and confused. As a result, I've developed two lives; one with him and one when I'm with my Christian friends."

An elderly woman said, "My sister thinks she has all the answers about the faith and tries to convince me of her point of view. I feel pressured to become her brand of Christian, but I keep thinking if it means being like her, I don't want it at all. When she calls, I just put the phone on my shoulder and let her rant on while I do other things. A half-hour later, she's still on the line blasting away, but I still feel pressure."

A young pastor at a clergy conference said, "I hardly know who I am any more. There are so many points of view in my congregation, I can't please them all. Everyone wants to capture me for his camp and get me to shape the church around his convictions. The pressure makes me want to leave the ministry."

All of these persons have one thing in common. They are being pressured by other people. We all, at one time or another, experience people-pressure. The question is how will it effect our judgment? That is the question Herod faced. After making an oath to a pretty young girl that she could have up to half of his kingdom, she surprised him and asked for the head of the Baptist. Mark 6:26 indicates that the King was thrown into distress, he knew it was wrong, but because of his oath and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. He sent the executioner and on a platter was delivered the head of a holy man.
Responding to Biblical Mandates

William Sloane Coffin, Jr., who died at the age of 81, was an honored scholar, civil rights leader, antiwar activist, and a prophet. He summed up his faith by saying, "I believe Christianity is a worldview that undergirds all progressive thought and action." He also said, "The Christian church is called to respond to Biblical mandates like truth-telling, confronting injustice, and pursuing peace." His actions and words are evidence that he was able to navigate the tension created by those who would separate power into the categories of church and state, or more accurately, of God and man.

His words are good to reflect upon, particularly given the world we live in, where power and authority are often thought of in terms of personal privilege and gain. Are the choices we make to live our lives progressively seen as authentic demonstrations of Biblical mandates or do these choices simply challenge authority and invite criticism? And what if we are criticized? Should we let that deter our actions and cause us to forsake the Gospel mandate?

Debbie Royals
No Going Back

When Julius Caesar landed on the shores of Britain with his Roman legions, he took a bold and decisive step to ensure the success of his military venture. Ordering his men to march to the edge of the Cliffs of Dover, he commanded them to look down at the water below. To their amazement, they saw every ship in which they had crossed the channel engulfed in flames. Caesar had deliberately cut off any possibility of retreat. Now that his soldiers were unable to return to the continent, there was nothing left for them to do but to advance and conquer! And that is exactly what they did.
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