DEUTERONOMY 4:32-34, 39-40 ROMANS 8:14-17 MATTHEW 28:16-20
The three readings follow each other in an interesting sequence this week as we celebrate Trinity Sunday. In the first reading from the book of Deuteronomy, Moses, in his final address to the people, reminds them of their special relationship with God by pointing out the tremendous ways God manifested himself to them. God, almighty and all-powerful, was their protector. He showed his might by sending ten plagues upon the Egyptians and then guiding them out of Egypt. He recalls the theophany at Mount Sinai when God descended on the mountain in fire and thunder and lightning, gave them the Law and sealed the covenant that claimed them as his chosen people.
In the second reading, taken from the letter to the Romans, Paul moves away from the image of God as the almighty and all-powerful. He stresses that through Christ each of us has been adopted by God, and so we’re elevated as children of God. The Spirit, present in us, continually gives witness to this adoption.
As God’s children we now have confidence to address God as Abba, father – daddy – papa. In the gospel passage the resurrected Jesus commissions the apostles to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and Holy Spirit.” Now, everyone is special, and everyone is chosen to enter this intimate relationship with God.
God revealed himself most clearly and definitively in the person of Jesus who, in his life and preaching, brought to light the very essence of God – love. That love is extended to us through the Spirit who’s always with us and in us, drawing us into a profound and intimate relationship with God.
Through Christ, the Word of God made flesh, we’re drawn into the life of the Trinity – the life of love. This is what we celebrate today.
We have arrived at Pentecost – the exclamation point that ends our seven -week celebration of Easter. During those weeks, many scripture passages were given to us for our prayerful contemplation.
We listened to the account of the two disciples who came to recognize Jesus when he broke bread with them. We witnessed Thomas abandon his disbelief to acknowledge Jesus as his personal Lord and God. We heard Jesus promise us that he would be our shepherd never failing to care for us. He revealed his profound connection with us when he told us that he was the vine and we were the branches. He went on to call us his friends and special confidants. He consecrated us and commissioned us to continue the work he began. Finally, he promised to send us the Spirit of truth.
In preparation for the Spirit’s anointing today I invite you to, first and foremost, open your hearts and minds to the peace Jesus offers us. He greets us with the same greeting he extended to the apostles, Shalom. It’s the peace that rests in the heart of God – the peace that banishes fear – the peace that gives power to our witness. It’s the peace that opens our ears to the meaning of the scriptures.
fire that would purify the world. This is the lamp put on the lamp stand to bring light to all in the house.
“And they were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.” Recreated, purified, their hearts opened to the word of God, the Spirit destroyed the barriers preventing them from witnessing to the resurrected Lord.
Loving Father, gathered in your name we implore you drive all our fears from us.
Pour your holy peace into our hearts. Purify us and speak your name to us from the eternal fire of your love.
Loosen our tongues that we might speak only your word that we might witness to, and be one with, your Word made flesh that our word may heal as his healed that our word may speak your truth as his did.
May we bring your fire to the earth.
May we be salt for the earth and light for the world.
ACTS 1:15-17, 20A-26. 1 JOHN 4:11-16 JOHN 17:11A-19
We’ve come to the last Sunday of Easter, concluding the great Week of Weeks. The gospel message couldn’t be more appropriate or more powerful as we anticipate the feast of Pentecost. The passage is taken from the prayer Jesus lifted up for his disciples at the Last Supper. They’re the last words he spoke to them before his arrest. This is what he prayed: “Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth.”
In a few hours Jesus would give witness to Pilate. He boldly declared, “I came into the world to testify to the truth.” Jesus not only testified to the truth, he was the truth, the very Word of God made flesh. He stood in confrontation to the world that hates the truth the religious leadership that condemned him and the politicians that executed him. From the judgment seat of the cross he would judge them. And from the altar of the cross he would sacrifice himself to redeemed them.
Jesus continued his prayer. “As you sent me into the world, so I send them into the world. And I consecrate myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in truth.” Jesus’ prayer reached far beyond the supper table. He was praying for you and me. He was consecrating us in the truth, just as he consecrated those first disciples.
Consecrated by that sacred anointing, he sent us out. We’re to carry Christ, the way, the truth, and the life into the world that has lost its way, that doesn’t know truth, that’s barely alive. We’re the mustard seed Jesus planted. We’re the yeast he folded into a bowl of flour. The mustard seed will become a tree where the birds will find a place to roost. The yeast will coax the flour to become the bread of life. Dying to ourselves we’ll show the way; we’ll reveal the truth; we’ll celebrate a new life.
Ending the prayer, he said: “I made known to them your name and I will make it known, that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them.” With him in us, God’s love will conquer the world slowly transforming it into the kingdom of heaven.
Lord Jesus Christ, you are the vine, and we are your branches. Consecrate us in the truth that the world might drink of the new wine of your kingdom. Amen
There’s a very special message in the Gospel reading today. At the Last Supper Jesus told the disciples who were at table with him, “I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends because I have told you everything I have heard from the Father.”
It sounds very strange to us to hear Jesus referring to his disciples as slaves. But those who heard him would have asked themselves why isn’t he calling us slaves any longer?
The word for slave is doulos. Moses, Joshua and David were given the title, doulos of God. In his letter to Titus, St. Paul refers to himself as the doulos of God. This was a title of great honor. Mary, in the gospel of Luke, tells the angel Gabriel that she’s the doula of the Lord. She’s no common handmaid, as the word doula is usually translated – she’s the slave of God, just as Moses was the slave of God God’s own possession, devoted exclusively to him.
Jesus goes on to say that he now calls his disciples friends. This word, too, has a historical background. Abraham was called the friend of God, a term that came from the royal court of eastern kings. The friends of the emperor had access to the king at any time. They were his most trusted confidants even before his generals and statesmen.
Jesus is telling his disciples that they’ve been called to serve God with the intensity and devotion of Moses and Mary but not at the status of a slave who simply takes orders. Jesus is making them his partners – his personal confidants -his friends. They’re privileged members of God’s inner circle.
He then sends them all on a mission. I “have appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.” And what’s the fruit that they’re to bear? He tells them very clearly, “This I command you: love one another.”
John, the author of this gospel teaches, in his first letter, that “God is love.” Jesus is taking his disciples – all his disciples, not just those at the Last Supper – into the intimacy of God’s friendship. To do so, he asks us to follow his commandment with the commitment and devotion of a slave, “Love one another as I have loved you.”
What a tremendous revelation! What a tremendous invitation! As slaves, we joyfully bear the burden of love. As friends, we draw the power of love by touching the very heart of God.
A Brief Reflection for the Feast of the Ascension
I want to call your attention to a sentence in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. We’re told that Jesus’ last message to his disciples was that they would soon receive the power of the Holy Spirit so that they could give witness to him “to the ends of the earth.” He was then lifted up and returned to the Father. They were still watching him ascend when “two men dressed in white garments stood beside them.” They then spoke these words:
“MEN OF GALILEE, WHY ARE YOU STANDING THERE LOOKING AT THE SKY?”
What’s the message of these two men dressed in white garments? It’s simple. Get your heads out of the clouds! Come back down to earth! You’ve just been given a commission to witness to Jesus to the ends of the earth. There’s serious work to do! Get going!
The Gospel passage reinforces their words with the words of Jesus. “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature!”
What do you hear today? What are you going to do about it? Where do you go from here?
ACTS 9:26-31 1 JOHN 3:18-24 JOHN 15:1-8
As a preacher and teacher Jesus was quite down to earth. He took simple, common, everyday occurrences and used them to make a point that could be easily understood and retained. Today we’re reflecting on an image he used to illustrate our connection with him and the Father. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch from me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit.”
In Jesus’ day vines were everywhere. They were grown on trellises on the side of homes. They were on balconies and rooftops. They were cultivated in vineyards. The people were very knowledgeable about the care and maintenance of the vine.
As Jesus spoke about the vine and the branches the people would also have been thinking of the many scriptures that referred to Israel as the vine. Psalm 80, praising God for taking care of Israel, says, “You brought a vine out of Egypt.” Isaiah said, “The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel.” But the psalms and the prophets also used the image of the vine to describe the corruption of Israel. Jeremiah and Isaiah condemned Israel for becoming a “wild vine,” unpruned, and bearing little fruit.
In this teaching Jesus presents himself as the TRUE vine. He’s not like Israel, the vine gone wild; he submits to the Father who continually prunes and nurtures the vine. He’s reminding his listeners that they’re the branches; they bear the fruit. He’s reassuring them that as long as they stay connected to him, the vine, the Father will care for them like a gardener. With his care, they’ll bear abundant fruit. But he cautions that “anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither.”
This a spiritual life-cycle that Jesus is describing in this image of the vine and the branches. John the Baptist articulated this same spiritual truth when he proclaimed, “He must increase – I must decrease.” Jesus is intimately connected with the Father, the source of all life. In the same way, when we’re connected to Jesus, the Father will nurture and strengthen us. The divine life will flow through us and we’ll bear fruit of the kingdom.