4th Sunday Easter - Year B - 2015
I love the stories of the Apostolic Age that we hear in the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles. They read like Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings trilogy or the Star Wars saga – telling the story of Christianity as if it were a great adventure. And why not? If we reflect on our own journeys, the twists and turns, the obstacles we navigate, the tough lessons we learn and seemingly impossible situations we survive, the Christian life truly is an adventure.
That’s why I love these stories from the Acts of the Apostles as we bask in the glory of Easter. We see the adventures our early fathers in faith to carry the Gospel throughout the world. Think about it – standing up like Peter did in today’s reading to preach the Gospel boldly, without fear – calling a spade a spade, challenging the culture and society, challenging leaders and followers alike, all for the purpose of preaching one message: ‘Our good works or morality can’t save us – there is nothing under heaven that can save us except the name of Jesus Christ.’
How cool to be a part of that!! Smack dab in the middle of Christianity’s spread to the ends of the Earth. How awesome to be a real, substantive part of preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ! What a privilege that would be!
Last week we began by reflecting how awesome it would have been to actually be witnesses to these things – and we realized that, indeed, we are witnesses to the life, death, resurrection and saving power of Jesus Christ. In fact, if there are to be any witnesses to these things today, we are the witnesses. Like those early disciples, we can only recognize Jesus in the breaking of the break – and when we recognize Him, we depart from the Mass with the command to Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord as witnesses to these things.
We also need to see that the great Acts of the Apostles aren’t merely stories of the past, but models for our continuation of the Christian saga. You and I are called to stand up just as courageously in the world and proclaim to the whole human race that there is only one way to be saved – the stone so often rejected in the living of our lives must become the cornerstone – we must preach with Peter that salvation comes only though the name of Jesus.
The Church often invites us to recognize a second and just as important way that we’re called to participate in the continued unfolding of the Christian story. It was part of how the whole growing Christian community shared in the mission in those first centuries as well, how the whole community shared in spreading the Gospel and caring for the sick and needy and marginalized of those times. It was part of how they practiced loving their neighbors as Christ taught them. They followed the example of Peter and Paul and others who preached and stood up for the Gospel wherever they went, and they shared from everything they had with the whole community of faith for the good of the Gospel. “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute their proceeds to all, as any had need…And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” It seems that the Apostle Paul conducted what might be called an early ‘Diocesan Annual Appeal’ to gather the funds needed to support the work of the Church throughout the region.
The testimony of the Apostolic Age is simple and clear: spreading the Gospel – doing our part in carrying out the Great Commission left to us by Christ Himself – requires each and every one of us to do two things. First, we have to carry the Gospel message with us wherever we go, preaching loud and clear with our words and our actions the firm belief that salvation comes only through Jesus Christ. Secondly, and just as importantly, we have to share from our goods for the support of the Church in a way that seems like we live as if we have all things in common.
Our parish is a perfect example of why this kind of giving is so important. Something approaching half of our annual operating budget comes to us from the Diocese of Lexington. Half! Quite simply, without the success of collective giving efforts like Diocesan Annual Appeals, there are many parishes throughout the country that quite simply wouldn’t exist – there would be entire counties of people with no living, active presence of the Catholic Church in their midst. We’re all called to play a part in the ministry and mission of Christ in these ‘mission areas’ by our participation in these broad giving opportunities.
I’m making my own gift to our diocese’s Annual Appeal this weekend – actually, I’m making two gifts, one in common with each of the parishes I’m privileged to Shepherd. And I’m asking each of you to do the same. Maybe your diocesan appeal has already happened or hasn’t yet started – make a decision now to be a part of that effort. Maybe your diocesean program is based around the occasional opportunity to support specific missions when their representatives are among you for appeal weekends – you can decide now that you’ll participate in some way in those efforts. These are important ways to join together with our brothers and sisters throughout the world to preach salvation in the name of Jesus Christ.