Thursday, August 21, 2014

A New Spirit Within You

I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts.  I will put my spirit within you and make you live by my statutes, careful to observe my decrees.  You shall live in the land I gave your ancestors; you shall be my people, and I will be your God.  Ezekiel 36:26-28

Then the king said to his servants, ‘The feast is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy to come.  Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find.’  The servants went out into the streets and gathered all they found, bad and good alike, and the hall was filled with guests.  Matthew 22:8-10

Father, thank you for giving us a new heart and new spirit.  Continue to give us the strength, the hope and the love to walk with you as we bring the Good News of your love from the sanctuary to the streets.  Amen.

Good and bad alike, God ignores our faults.  He invites us into relationship with him regardless of what we have done in the past, washing away our sins and ignoring the hardness of our hearts.  Today’s Gospel is like the opposite of the Prodigal Son.  In that parable, the Father gave a feast for his son who had strayed. His brother was upset that their Father had not given a feast for him. 

Today, the Father-King holds a wedding feast for his son but none of the original guests come.  They ignore his invitation – or worse still – they kill his messengers (the prophets).  When the chosen people stay away and continue to pursue their own self-interests.  Finally, the doors are opened wide for whomever accepts the invitation.

While the invitation is freely given, it comes with a price – the price being entering into a proper relationship with the Father-King.  The new covenant described in Ezekiel requires of us two things:  to accept the new spirit offered and then to live by the Lord’s decrees.  According to the notes section of the New American Bible, this ending is unique to Matthew’s gospel, a story-within-the-story.   

“Matthew presents the kingdom in its double aspect, already present and something that can be entered here and now, and something that will be possessed only by those present members who can stand the scrutiny of the final judgment. The parable is not only a statement of God’s judgment on Israel but a warning to Matthew’s church” about the price they must pay for the new covenant of love which is freely given to us in baptism.

The guest without a wedding garment represents those who refuse to the repent, who refuse the change of heart and mind, which is the condition for entrance into the kingdom.  Such a life of love-in-action must be continued by our faith commitment to the new covenant.

Our invitation into relationship also comes with a price.  We must choose to pick up our cross daily and walk with God.  Our wedding garment is the symbol of our willingness to change the direction in which we seek happiness.

Our baptism invitation is not the end of our relationship.  Our initiation continues when we share Eucharist, seek a new heart in Reconciliation and bring the word to the world in Confirmation. We also spread this covenant of love with the community that we build via marriage or holy orders.

Recently, I have been to several weddings and have pending invitations for more in the coming weeks and months.  The bride and groom dress on that day in a fashion in which they have not seen of each other previously – and in garments which they may never wear again.  They are changing the normal of their past and entering into a new normal based upon love. The guests also dress in their Sunday finest and share in the new direction that the loves of the bride and groom will take.

Where are you on this journey?  What is the new normal of your Fourth Day?  Are you building communities? Are you bringing the word to the world?  Or are you still loved yet still locked into the upper room of your life trying to stay in your old comfort zone?

The covenant requires us to change the direction in which we look for happiness just like the bride and groom and the wedding guests.  It won’t be found in your new car, your new job or your new digital toy.  It will only be found when we willingly step one foot in front of the other to walk in the way of the Lord, not the world.

This whole section in Matthew’s gospel screams that the walk will not be easy.  Think of those peaceful protestors in Ferguson, MO who are crying for justice following the death of Michael Brown.  It is fitting that the ministers of the community are anchoring the peaceful marches step-by-agonizing-step while trying to bridge the search for justice with those who seek vengeance through violent means.

His Excellency, Robert J. Carlson, Archbishop of St. Louis, recently issued a letter to the faithful in the Archdiocese of St. Louis but in it is a message for us as well:
“The residents of Ferguson, Missouri, are struggling to find peace in the chaos. As people of Christ, we are struggling to find direction in the unrest.”  He went on to write how he finds strength in the peace prayer of St. Francis of Assisi.  

“In all circumstances, but especially in these difficult times, we are all called to be instruments of peace through our words and actions. Pope Francis recently stated that, "All men and women of good will are bound by the task of pursuing peace."

Last night, the Archbishop Carlson celebrated a Mass for Reconciliation and asks for continued prayers from all of us that the new way forward of peace and justice will be found in Ferguson.

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