Can you feel it ? The kingdom is very close.

 14th Sunday Year C (4 July 2010)
Deacon Les Ruhrmund

Earlier this week, while driving in my car , I was listening to the radio and there was a discussion about the predictions that had been made in the build up to the World Cup for the success of Bafana Bafana by some traditional Sangomas and by some Christian church leaders – all of whom had confidently prophesised that Bafana Bafana would progress to at least the second round of the finals – janowellfine. So did the Sangomas and church leaders get it wrong or did God decide at the last moment that it was perhaps better for us that the agony of expectation be relieved sooner rather than later? Or do the prayers of the Germans/Dutch/Uruguay/Spanish work better than ours?

The whole discussion is of course nonsense. The very idea that things like sports results are predetermined by the specific will of God makes a mockery both of God and of we who are created in God’s image. If these sorts of things are indeed all preordained then our status in this life is reduced to little more than puppets being manipulated by a somewhat fickle master; hardly a successful recipe for a love relationship.

So who does God support in the World Cup and what is God’s will for Bafana Bafana? It’s no different from God’s will for each of us. We are to love God and to love each other in this life so that we can enjoy eternal life. We can love God and love each other through sport as we can through politics, science, art, music, literature, song and dance, work and play. We can fulfil God’s will in everything we do; but the ultimate choice to love or not to love is ours – not God’s. The consequences of our choices are of our own making – consequences that may or may not be in harmony with God’s will. We have the gifts and the grace to make the kingdom of God a reality on earth now – if we choose to. Jesus says in the Gospel reading “The kingdom of God is very near to you.” It as near as the love we share.

Over the last three weeks many of us and many of the visitors to our country have experienced a kind of magic that has changed and gladdened our hearts – an experience of generous kindness, tolerance, charity, goodness, joy and hospitality. That is us putting God’s will into practice. It reminds me a little of Sydney during World Youth Day – the kingdom of God visible, tangible and real.

The picture we are given of God in the first reading taken from the last chapter of Isaiah is one of a mother. Isaiah uses a collection of metaphors to describe God’s love for his people as that of a mother cuddling, nourishing, consoling, protecting, comforting her children. Staying with the analogy of God as a parent, every parent knows that even with all the love and nurturing and the best will in the world, our children will live their lives as they choose – and this may or may not be in harmony with our wishes or will. 

The second reading is the conclusion of Paul’s letter to the Galatians – a Christian community that Paul had converted from paganism. Not long after he had left them to continue his missionary travels around the Roman Empire, a group of Christian converts from Judaism arrived and told the Galatians that to be good Christians they had first to be good Jews which meant that they had to follow the Law of Moses and specifically that the men had to be circumcised. Paul adamantly opposed this and his letter to the Galatians is a strong and emotional defence of both his personal authority and the validity of his teaching. Earlier in the letter he explains that in God’s eyes, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

“I want no more trouble from anybody after this;” writes Paul “the marks on my body are those of Jesus.” The marks on his body are those of a lamb scarred by wolves.

If we have been faithful to our Christian promises then we too will have the scars to show and in all likelihood, there will be more scars to come. Jesus sent the seventy-two out into a hostile environment warning them that they would be like lambs among wolves. The environment in which we live and in which we practice and proclaim our faith today is also hostile. We are surrounded by snakes and scorpions in sport, politics, art, music, literature, song and dance, work and play; ready at every turn to poison our hearts and our souls.

But we are not defenceless; we have the grace and the power of the Holy Spirit to protect and strengthen us if we choose to put our faith in Christ. We have the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome evil, to love and to make the kingdom of God a reality.

Jesus sent out the seventy-two in pairs; there’s much value in companionship and in sharing one’s faith. We should all have faith companions. It may be a spouse or partner, a parent, a colleague or a friend; people with whom we can share experience of our pilgrimage. There are many opportunities within our parish to find faith companions and if you are not already involved perhaps now is the time. There’s the RCIA program that is looking for sponsors, Alpha, Genesis, two choirs and the music ministry, the Catholic Women’s League, St Michael’s Care Group and the catering team; St Vincent de Paul, the Adoration Chapel and small faith sharing groups.    

Jesus sent the seventy-two out to prepare the way for him. We are sent out after every Mass to do the same. Jesus sends them and they are out of their comfort zone – no purse, no haversack, no sandals. Perhaps in this week we could dare to venture among the wolves. Maybe there is someone in the family, or at work or an old friend with whom we have never taken the opportunity to talk about faith.

Perhaps we could talk to someone close to us, someone for whom we really care, about our relationship with Jesus.

“Start off now,” says Jesus. “The kingdom of God is very near.”

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