Today we celebrate Mother's Day. I invite all mothers to stand for our applause.
I think everyone would agree that mothers are great teachers. Here are a few things my mother taught me: To appreciate a job well done. She would say to us, e. g.: “If you’re going to kill each other, do it outside; I just finished cleaning!” Mom taught logic. How many have heard mom say: “Because I said so, that’s why!” Mom gave lessons about the economy. E. g.: “Clean your room. We can't afford a maid." And about envy. She would say: “There are millions of starving children who don’t have a supper like yours!” Do these lessons sound familiar?
Seriously the words mother and mom evoke many roles, but whatever her job, a mother shows her children how to live. And what's the most important thing a mother can give? Unconditional love, acceptance, and forgiveness. Our mothers encourage us, are patient and always ready to listen. Yes, we never will be able to fully measure the unconditional love of a mother for her child.
The word of God in the Book of the Acts takes us back to the beginnings of Christianity. The early Church is beginning to diversify: Gentiles as well as Jews; Greek speaking as well as Aramaic speaking disciples. The challenge then and now is how to stay united as the Church diversifies. Suddenly in this passage, a problem arises: the community is neglecting the needy. But they don’t let the problem simmer. They solve it. They ordain some as deacons. The Greek word diakonia means service.
It wouldn’t surprise me if Stephen Covey was inspired by this passage to publish his bestseller “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” He added an eighth. This best seller is worth re-reading. These habits help whenever we face problems.
Remember the saying: I shall pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.
The letter of Peter evokes the image of a building, a spiritual house, a cathedral, a living temple of God. The living Christ is the cornerstone or center; and we, the community of believers, are the living stones of that house. Churches evoke for me images of the great medieval Gothic cathedrals: stain-glassed windows that tell the biblical story of salvation; vaulted ceilings that lift our eyes upward to God, stone carved biblical heroes and heroines that inspire and brilliant light that symbolizes Jesus Christ.
The author of Peter may challenge us to build a living temple to God, a cathedral so to speak, out of our life of discipleship with Jesus. The stones are our good deeds, for as folk wisdom goes: in death, the only thing we take with us are our good deeds.
In the Gospel, Jesus says we have a dwelling place with God. What precisely will this dwelling place be like? We don’t know! Death is our most radical act of faith in God. It's like a trapeze. We let go of our earth-bound existence, all we call human life, our very selves with unconditional trust that God will catch us in that great leap into darkness and bear us away within himself forever.
Today I would like to look at images of the Church in light of Peter's letter. One of my favorite, one of the oldest, is a boat, which offers so many insights into who the Church is and the history of the Church. Imagine! we're in a boat. We're traveling to a port of call (heaven), together, with a map and lots of stormy weather, people slipping overboard, survivors being pulled in, mutinies among the crew, getting off course, being attacked. And a boat needs a captain when everybody's losing their heads. He may not be ideal—too lax, too strict--but if everybody grabs for the tiller, we're all in trouble. Peter, e..g., didn't seem to be the ideal captain, yet what his crew and subsequent crews managed to do, with the grace of God, has lasted over two thousand years and today has 1.3 billion people, not to mention the 300 million orthodox and 800 million protestants under the umbrella “Christianity.”
There are many models of this Church: an institution with a structure, mystical body or people of God, servant, herald of the good news, and sacrament or sign of God's grace. No one model can fully capture the reality of the Church.
Perhaps we might best describe the Church as a community who believe in God as Triune and in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the redeemer of humankind, and who shape their lives according to that belief; a community which remembers that belief ritually in the Eucharist, and recognizes the Bishop of Rome as the foundation of its unity.
This global community of believers lives under a huge tent. Some people are good, others not so good; in fact, some are downright dysfunctional. They make a mess out of their lives and the lives of others. They sometimes even leave a mess. And so, like so many other things in life, the Church lives with some messiness and muddles through as best it can. But we continually have to strive to do the right thing, to forgive ourselves and one another, to let go of feelings of resentment and bitterness, and get our lives “back on track” and, as the prophet Micah said centuries before Jesus: “do the right and love goodness and walk humbly with our God.”
And what does this community of believers do? We remember and celebrate the awesome presence of the Living Christ in our midst—He is our way into eternal life, our truth who scatters the “fake news” all around us, and our life who overcomes death. We retell the stories of Jesus; we celebrate the sacramental presence of the living Christ in liturgical signs like baptismal water, Eucharistic bread and wine and healing consecratory oil. The same Spirit who transformed the disciples from cowards hiding behind closed doors into heroes proclaiming fearlessly that Jesus is alive, that same Spirit lives within our global community, within us, and can fire us up to do wonders for God if we will only let the Spirit do so.
In the final analysis, we are a global community of believers that stretches back to the first century of our Christian era, and that will continue into this millennium and perhaps into many more millennia until Jesus Christ triumphantly returns in his second coming to transform this universe into a “new heaven and a new earth.”
In the meantime, to paraphrase Teresa of Avila, the living Christ has no body but ours; no hands, no feet but ours; ours are the eyes with which living Christ looks compassionately on the needy; ours are the feet with which he walks to do good; and ours are the hands with which he helps others.