Saturday, November 23, 2013

King of Kings

Solemnity of Christ the King
Christ the King Parish, Topeka
23/24 November 2013
End of the Year of Faith

Michael Jackson is the king of pop.  Elvis the king of rock. Simba is the king of the jungle.  Lebron is King James of the basketball world.  Perhaps, in a country whose freedom was gained through the toppling of a tyrant king, and who elects a president instead, talk of kings could sound anachronistic.  Yet we are not immune to anointing kings.  In fact, we still love to do it.  Whenever we lack a king, we want to anoint one.  We love to find out who dominates in their particular area of reality  We love to point out who demands submission, who reigns over his competitors, the one who has power and fame. We love to anoint kings today as much as we ever have.  We still love kings, and what is more, we still love seeing them fall.

A king is different than a president.  Way different.  A president serves at our pleasure.  He is elected.  A president has great power, but a king is more.  A king commands obedience.  There is no kingship where there is divided loyalty.  Kingship is absolute. It demands submission.  When we declare Jesus to be King, then, we are doing something extraordinarily profound.  It is not something we can or should do lightly, especially here as we celebrate the namesake of our parish - Christ the King!  We are here today to do nothing less than worship.  And worship is something different from anything else we do.  Worship demands submission.  We do not worship that which we elect or that which serves at our pleasure.  No, we worship that which is greater than us.  To worship is to submit, so if we are here to worship, and to do nothing less than worship, then it is fitting - it is required really, to proclaim Jesus Christ to be our Lord and King!

Today we submit ourselves to the author of all creation, to the one more powerful than the Big Bang because he existed before it happened.  We bow down before one whose kingdom does not just occupy a vast portion of the time and space of the universe, but one whose kingdom is alone universal and eternal.  Because his kingdom is founded by spiritual not temporal realities - by truth and love - it is a kingdom that even the one with the power to launch a nuclear weapon is powerless to destroy.  This kingdom is ultimate, and this kingdom belongs to Christ our King.  Whenever we say the personal name of Jesus, then, it is right and fitting to anoint him as our king at the same time.  Jesus is the Christ.  He is the anointed one.  Jesus is the Lord.  Jesus is king.

Yet the incomparable power of Jesus our King lies not ultimately in his power to rule and to judge and to dominate.  Remarkably, the unique power of Christ lies in just the opposite.  Jesus Christ is King not only because his kingdom is bigger and more powerful and lasts longer than any other kingdom imaginable.  No, he is king because his kingship explodes all categories of kingship.  Jesus is through his kingship the only and ultimate definition of what a king is, and anyone else's kingship is illusory and fleeting unless it shares in the kingship of Christ.

For Jesus Christ is King not simply because he existed before, and is the author of the Big Bang and all that comes after.  He is powerful even moreso because He can also make himself small enough to be born in the cold, in abject poverty.  He is powerful even moreso in that he can ride into his capital city not with a secret service or an army, but on a donkey, and still his kingship is never touched or threatened.  He is powerful enough to hand himself over to his enemies without losing his kingship, allowing himself to be judged by one lesser than he, and to be spat upon and mocked as the most ignoble of kings under the pathetic sign - Ieusus Nazarenus Rex Ieudaeorum.  This power shown by our king, a power to increase his kingship by giving himself over in love to one's enemies, is a power greater than the Big Bang.  It is the power of sacrificial love shown by our King that is the true ground of all reality.  It is this ultimate power that makes Christ the ultimate and incomparable and only real King.

The power of our king to give himself away in love then, is what we have ultimately come to worship.  It is our king's choice to be a lamb slaughtered before us on this altar, that precedes his ultimate coming as king to judge heaven and earth.  It is this truth, the truth that is Jesus, the truth that he represents and that He is, that we have come to worship.  For anyone who belongs to ultimate truth, sees the truth that is Jesus, and declares Him alone to be King.  Amen.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

apocalypse now

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time C
17 November 2013
Christ the King Topeka
Year of Faith

Jesus points us this weekend to the immediate apocalypse  To the real and ultimate apocalypse. The only apocalypse that really matters.  The apocalypse of the heart.

Jesus puts an end to the nonsense.  For our own good he says enough.  He says rightly that organized religion doesn't have all the answers.  Even the glorious Jerusalem temple will be thrown down.  He predicts rightly that wars and storms will come and go.   Kingdoms will rise and fall.  Ideas and religions will emerge and fade away.  The world will be turned upside down over and over, but none of this is the end.  The algorithms to predict the apocalypse are too complex for anyone to know.  Everyone who has tried to predict the end has been wrong.  He says rightly not to pay attention to prophets, or rulers, or philosophers or scientists who try to pretend to know more than they really do.

Jesus instead points his disciples to a much more important apocalypse . . the apocalypse of the human heart.  The apocalypse that is always here and always now . . the unveiling of our hearts.  St. Paul tells us in the second reading to stop getting caught up in gossip, jealousies, and idleness, when we are to be about the work of finding and fulfilling our ultimate mission in life.  He tells us to get to work.  Jesus tells his disciples plainly to take courage and to enter into martyrdom.

Jesus reminds his disciples that the drama taking place in our hearts and minds is much more important than the drama taking place in the clouds or on the television or in the newspaper.  Of course I do not mean to downplay the real storms and dangers people face.  There are terrifying wars and natural disasters happening all the time.  They are real to real people.  Still, we control very little of what comes to us from the outside.  To be human is to be vulnerable.  Jesus reminds us that the storm and battle we ultimately choose is within . . being played out in our hearts.

 Jesus reminds his disciples that the real and ultimate battle never comes from the outside -  the real battle, the one that is always there, is an immediate and personal one.  To be human Jesus reminds us is precisely to be capable of sacrifice . . even to the point of shedding our blood.  This is the apocalypse, or the unveiling of the human heart . . to explore the depths of love.  Jesus reminds his disciples that they are capable of nothing less than giving witness, of being a sign of the love and truth that are the ground of existence, and the only things that can endure when the world passes away.

The real apocalypse then, the only that is happening always and everywhere, is the apocalypse happening within us right now.  It is the battle for our true identity and the battle of the heart.  It is the battle to find a mission, and to give our lives to something and someone bigger than us.  It is the obedience born of love, and for the Christian, a precise following of Jesus' command to love others just as he first loves us.  This can only mean for the Christian the potential of martyrdom when the world opposes a truth and a love and a person, our Lord Jesus, that we know to be the ground of all existence.  To be Christian can only mean entering into the apocalyptic battle of loving and giving witness no matter what opposition might arise, even to the cost of shedding our own blood.

Jesus tells us plainly, and of course always and forever for our own good, that the apocalypse is never in the future.  It is always now, or it is never.  For one who chooses the apocalypse before the apocalypse chooses them, of course there is no fear of what may come.  The way of ultimate love is to choose death long before death chooses us, and to give our lives in witness to a love that is stronger than death.  Amen.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

resurrected life

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time C
Christ the King Parish Topeka
9/10 November 2013
Year of Faith
Daily Readings

At stake in this weekend's scriptures is our faith in the Resurrection of the Body.  Jesus is Risen from the dead!  He is truly Risen!  This is the Easter proclamation of our Church.  It is the deepest and most powerful proclamation of the year for us, the proclamation without which our faith is in vain, and we are the stupidest people imaginable.  Jesus is truly Risen!  And not just his soul, but his body!  The tomb is empty.  Our humanity, our real bodily humanity, taken up by Jesus in his Incarnation, is destined for redemption, is meant to be raised to the glory of heaven.  Christians proclaim as the one thing they know to be true of all things they know to be true, that there is a bodily Resurrection!  A Resurrection to which all creation is invited to participate.

The Sadducees make a desperate attempt to show how the law of Moses, which commands a brother to marry his brother's childless wife, confuses the possibility of a bodily resurrection in heaven. Jesus has none of it, and dismisses their trap very easily.  Yes, it is true that marriage is vitally important. As the law of Moses recognized, in this world marriage is God's holy and chosen instrument for passing on life,  and what is more, it is the best place to experience intimacy and for memory and tradition to be passed on.  Marriage is crucial for this world, and now as then we should do everything we can to strengthen marriage. It is the best way this side of heaven to experience life and intimacy, and the best way to pass them on The law of Moses took marriage very seriously.  And without belief in a bodily resurrection, it might seem as if marriage is even more crucial, for marriage might be the only way for a person to live beyond death, through his children and being remembered by his family.  Otherwise, he would be lost forever.

Yet Jesus reminds us through his teaching that man is only the steward of life. We do not create or control it.  God formed man originally from the dust of the earth, and can do so again.  So although God chooses and desires marriage for creating life in this world, he does not need it to create life, nor is it his chosen instrument for giving eternal life, so marriage can and does pass away to a greater reality in the kingdom of heaven.  It's not that marriage is to be discarded in heaven, or becomes less, but it gives way to something more, to an intimacy and perfection and life that is only possible when we reach our highest destiny in the heart of God, when we enter into resurrected, eternal life.

That is the key to the Resurrection of the body.  It is the confirmation that we are all being transformed by the love of God into something more.  It is the confirmation that life does not fade, but grows until it reaches its highest and fullest and best point!  We believe that there is more life when there is greater love. So we become more alive whenever we move toward God, who is love.  We become more alive when we risk love, even at the cost of our earthly existence.   Indeed, it is precisely when we love beyond the point of fearing our own death, that life grows to its biggest and fullest and highest destiny.

Ultimately, life on this earth is only good insofar as it is grounded in love.  Otherwise, life is just horizontal existence, a participation in matter and energy that came from nowhere and ends up nowhere, and can not be categorized as good or bad.  It just is.  And without life being grounded in love, it just appears and fades away.  It never goes anywhere.  Even our attempt to put meaning into our existence ends up nowhere.   Yet knowing all we know about the conservation of matter and energy, we still sense that life has a transcendent meaning, and that we have an eternal destiny to live and love forever.

What we discover of course, is that we become more alive when we love.  This can't be measured horizontally by a calendar or stopwatch, only vertically.  Jesus says it exactly right.  Whoever loses his life by loving, finds it.  Yet, whoever seeks to preserve his life by refusing to love, loses it.  The resurrection of the body is that confirmation that we reach our fulfillment, and become fully alive, and become transformed into our highest destiny, when we are not afraid to love beyond our fear, because love is the ground of life, and whenever we love more, there is more life. Love is stronger than death, and the resurrection of Jesus' body is the confirmation of this.

The Sadducees had forgotten about the glorious historical witness of the Maccabean martyrs who put their trust in a bodily resurrection.  The martyrs whom we heard about in the first reading were not afraid to die young for their faith, before they were married or had a chance to pass on their life to their children.  No, they knew the truth very well that we become more alive when we latch on to vertical living measured by love, not when we latch on to horizontal living measured by time.  We become more alive when we are remembered by God, and are closer to his heart, for He alone is the creator of life, and he alone can secure life and restore it.

Sometimes Christians are accused of being afraid of reality, of ignoring the real condition of this world in order to believe in a fairy tale.  My friends, this is such baloney.  The witness of the martyrs shows us just the opposite.  The Maccabean martyrs did not hate their life in this world.  They did not hate their bodily existence.  They weren't trying to escape to a fantasy. They weren't out to trade being human for becoming angels.  No, quite the opposite, they wanted to become more alive in this world right now, and fully human right now, through love.  They loved their life in this world enough to not let it be diminished by forsaking God, the author of life.  They lived life to the full, without fear, precisely because they lived in the same hope of the Resurrection that has since been confirmed by Christ's rising from the dead.  They loved their lives in this world enough to give them away in order that life may increase, in the hope of being transformed into something even greater as they ventured into the very heart of God.

Those of us who believe in the resurrection of the body don't flee our world. We aren't scared of living or of reality.  We don't put our trust in fairy tales.  We love life and this world, and its people enough, to not settle for less life when we can have more.  We work hard that this world and its persons may have life in abundance, life at its full depth and intensity, and that persons may reach their highest destiny.  This only happens when we love beyond our fear of death, and place our hope solely in the life that is born of sacrificial and fearless and perfect love, the love that Christ commanded of us when he said to love one another just as I have loved you.  We know that in following the perfect path of love, even to the point of death, that tomorrow there will be more life, resurrected life, eternal life. Amen.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

being visited

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time B
3 November 2013
Christ the King Topeka
Year of Faith

God is desperately in love with us.  God is desperately in love with you.  He is yearning for you.  He is searching for you.

God is not desperate because he needs us.  He did not make creation because he was lonely.  He does not need the entertainment that is the ups and downs of our lives.  He did not create our freedom in order to test us.  No, he is not desperate in that way.  He doesn't need us whatsoever.  As the book of Wisdom tells us, before the Lord the whole universe is as a single grain in the balance.  The whole universe is virtually nothing compared to the greatness of God, no more than a drop of dew on the grass.  The whole universe is negligible compared to the glory of God, let alone a single person within it, you or me.  God is not desperate for us because he needs us.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Yet God is desperate because he makes himself so.  He searches for us because He is love, and that is what love does.  The book of Wisdom says that God loathes nothing of what he creates.  Therefore, even the smallest grain of wheat or drop of dew is known and loved and willed by God, and so much moreso us, made in his image and likeness.  We all know that in the scope of the entire universe, we are nothing, no more than a grain of sand, and there is a humility and holiness in this recognition that we are not big and not the center of the universe, nor can we make ourselves so.  Our significance comes then insofar as we are known and seen and loved and willed by God.  He gives to every living creature by his love for them a significance and a value and a reason for existing that no one else can give.

So much of our lives is geared around trying to do the right thing.  We order our lives around our to do lists.  What must I accomplish?  Specifically, what must I do to please God.  In doing so, we are often entering into the trap of beginning with ourselves, and what we must do to gain significance.  Yet it is clear that we cannot make ourselves important.  Starting with what we must do is the wrong place to start.  Our existence and our personhood are gifts that we receive.  It is allowing yourself to be seen and known and loved and willed by another that grounds our being.

99% of life then is allowing ourselves to be visited.  Zaccheus had a good day in this regard.  As we hear in the Gospel, Zaccheus was a small man, not only in height, but having made himself smaller and smaller by selling his soul.  He had tried to make himself important through exalting himself, cheating and politicking his way into the position of chief tax collector.  This backfired.  Yet there remained in him that divine spark that had yet to be extinguished.  He wished to see the person who could change him, who could love him at the point of his sinfulness, who could change his heart.

Zaccheus climbed to where he could see God, but more importantly, he put himself in a position where Jesus could see him.  And upon seeing him, Jesus wanted to visit Zaccheus more personally.  The Lord of the entire universe made himself desperate, and wanted to stay in the home of this wee little man.  Zaccheus could not be more different than Mary, and yet there pattern of holiness is the same.  Mary's greatness came through her allowing herself to be visited by Jesus.  So too Zaccheus.  His conversion came through his being seen and known and loved and willed and visited by Jesus.

The moment before we receive communion each week is thus a key moment in our lives; in many ways, more important than anything else we accomplish all week.  When we say Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed, we are doing the one thing that leads to greater conversion in our lives than anything else . . . we are allowing the Lord of the universe, the only one who can change us from the inside out, to visit us.  We are allowing him to be desperately in love with us. We are allowing him to find us.