12 July 2009

Where's our will; where's our way?

15th Sunday OT: Amos 7.12-15; Eph 1.3-14; Mark 6.7-13
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Sisters of St Mary of Namur

Brothers and sisters, like the Ephesians before us who heard the message of Paul, we gather this morning as we do every week to bless God the Father for raising His only Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ from the tomb. We bless Him for His gift of eternal life in Christ, for bringing us back into His holy family through Christ, and for bestowing upon us every spiritual blessing with His Holy Spirit. Our Father chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, making us holy, without blemish before him. Loving His people, He destined us for adoption as His sons and daughters, to be taken into His kingdom as heirs by sending His Son among us in the flesh; both human and divine, Jesus lived as one of us, died as one of us, and returned to his Father's right hand as the one, perfect sacrifice that opened the gates of heavens for us and holds them open still. So that we might forever praise the glory of the Throne in heaven, God favors us through His Holy Spirit with every award, benefit, and honor we need to grow and flower as saints of the Church. In the body and blood of Christ, we are reclaimed, repaired, and reconstituted; made wholly new, delivered to divine freedom, and purified of every disabling transgression. His abundant gifts do not burden us. They liberate us from every evil and show us the Way in darkness. With wisdom and insight, Christ has revealed to us the mystery of his Father's will for the fullness of time: He brings all things in heaven and on earth to their completion, to their perfection in Christ. In him we are chosen, we are destined with the divine purpose, so that we who first and always hope in Christ will exist to praise his glory alone. In the words and deeds of Christ Jesus we see and hear the word of truth, the good news of our salvation; and believing in him, we are branded by the cleansing fire of His Holy Spirit. The fulfillment of this promise on Pentecost is the first payment of our inheritance, the first step toward our redemption as God's possession. Paul is supremely confident in the faith and fervor of the Ephesians. Are we as confident of our own dedication? Who do we think we are to take up the cross and follow Christ?

Paul writes to the Church in Ephesus from prison. As a prisoner of the Roman Empire, Paul preaches a gospel of freedom in Christ from the chains of sin and death. Even as he languishes in jail, Paul shouts out God's Word across the known world. Amos, a sheep-herder and dresser of sycamores, is sent by God to prophesy to Israel. Angrily confronted by the priest, Amaziah, and ordered to leave the temple, Amos says, “I was sent by God to speak His word.” And Jesus, calling the Twelve together, sends his friends into the world, giving them authority to command unclean spirits, to preach and to teach. A prisoner, a sheep-herder, a tax-collector, a handful of fishermen, a doctor, and a few ambitious corporate climbers—all chosen, all taught, all sent to do one thing: speak the Living Word of God in spirit and in truth so that the heirs of the Father might know that their inheritance is at hand. Not one of these apostles or prophets goes willingly. Not one goes without apprehension. Not one of them leaves to do God's will without believing that he is unprepared, unworthy. But they go b/c they trust that God does His work through them and will use them to bring His will to completion.

As baptized men and women, we have already accepted the call from God to be His apostles, to be those who go out and preach His gospel in word and deed. As the Body of Christ together in this chapel, we are here to say “Amen, so be it” to God's charge that we become Christs where we are. And though we may believe ourselves unprepared and unworthy, we are nonetheless vowed to do exactly that. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul takes the time to describe to his brothers and sisters the origin and flowering of their work as heirs to the kingdom. His detailed account of their creation in love and their recreation in Christ's sacrifice is not just pretty theological rhetoric. His goal is to open their eyes and ears to the truth of their identity as ones who have been picked out, selected to do the job God has for them to do. Do you feel unprepared? Who doesn't? Nonetheless, you are a daughter of the Father, an heir. Are you unworthy? Who isn't? Nonetheless, you are a son of the Father, an heir. Are you a prisoner? A shepherd? A fisherman? Probably not. Are we without tools? Training? Experience? Maybe. Nonetheless, we are sent. The only important question now is: will you, will we go? If not, why not? What, who holds us back?

Amos is threatened by a priest who invokes both divine and worldly power, temple and king. Paul is threatened by imperial Rome who invokes its divine power in the exercise of worldly power, the Emperor is God. The apostles are threatened by temple, empire, and the rulers of this world—priests, soldiers, and demons. Though threatened from every direction by every force available, Amos, Paul, and the apostles go out anyway and do what their Father has commanded them to do. Who, what threatens you? The police department? Local, state, federal government? Your pastor? Spouse? Family? If so, listen again to Paul, the prisoner of Rome: “In [Christ] we were...chosen, destined...so that we might exist for the praise of his glory...In [Christ] you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, [you also]] were sealed with the promised holy Spirit, which is the first installment of our inheritance...” What creature can un-choose you? What relationship do you enjoy that trumps your inheritance as a son or daughter of the Father? What deficiency in training, moral purity, motivation, or wit can defeat the promise of your baptism? “In accord with the riches of his grace that he lavished upon us,” we are free from every deficiency that limits us, holds us back, or fights to defeat us.

Are we as confident of our own dedication to Christ as Paul is of the dedication of the Ephesians? Who do we think we are to take up the cross and follow Jesus to heaven? We are, right now, everything we need to be to not only shout out our dedication for the world to hear but to continue our walk on the Way as well. We cannot be afraid or timid or lax. There's work to be done, God's work. And when we do this work with the Holy Spirit, we are more than capable; we are blessed. What we need is the will to do what we have promised to do.


  1. Excellent as always, Father. I have a question. My Lector's Workbook for today states in the commentary that Ephesians was actually written by an early follower of Paul, not the Apostle himself. It was the first time I have heard such a claim. Can you comment?

  2. Patrick, I wish they wouldn't academic speculation like that in lector workbooks...it's info not relevant to the ministry...

    Most contemporary Pauline scholars agree with your workbook. In a homily my goal is not to explicate the readings as an academic text but to make them come alive for us now. What text of Ephesians is powerful for us even if Paul didn't write it...of course, we have no way of knowing that for sure either way.

  3. Thanks, Father. The workbook author stated it as fact. Not "most scholars think..." or anything similar.

    Maybe they think we should begin by saying "A reading from the letter that we used to think Paul sent to the Ephesians..." :)