This week I celebrated my 68th birthday. I can remember when I turned 60 thinking, oh my God; I am getting so old! Those of you out there who are older consoled me with the fact that, “I’m just a kid!” and should not worry. Now, at 68, the number isn’t so much my worry, as, what I am doing with all these years—whether I am faithful to the call, to the trust and love that God has first, given me.
I have shared with some of you in conversation that as I continue to age, the realization has come to me that I have lived the greatest portion of my life now and so, I am cognizant of the fact that I want to make the best of whatever years I have left. Like, for example, I don’t want to be part of groups anymore that are afraid to change, that aren’t open-minded and because those in power just want things to remain the same, even when it isn’t working; I am simply spinning my wheels when I could be doing something more productive for myself and others.
The chosen readings of the Church for this Sunday are all about love as is often the case in the Easter Season—some are very upfront about proclaiming this message of love, first from God and then the admonition that we do the same, as in the First Letter from John in today’s second reading.
The first reading shows this “love message” more obliquely where Peter asks in Acts, “What can stop these people who have received the Holy Spirit?” The answer of course is, “a lack of love.” Peter and the others struggled with the fact of whether Jesus intended that the Gentiles were to be baptized and confirmed by the Spirit in the faith. We only have to recall Jesus’ words in the 14th chapter of John, “You shall do even greater things than I” to know what Jesus intended—that his message to reach out to others was always, always part of the plan.
It is this assurance, that the “love message” was intended for all that gives me such joy in my involvement with the Winona Interfaith Council. I witness such rich theological messages coming from all of the faith backgrounds represented under our umbrella, Christian, Quaker, Unitarian, Buddhist, Islam, Jewish and Baha’i—each showing a different aspect of God’s face and involvement with our world and I know deep within the rightness that we all are united to speak in our community with one voice—we are loved by God and must return the love by respecting each other’s own particular ways of finding and going to God.
It is out of this rich bringing together that many churches within the Winona Interfaith Council have banded together once again to give voice to the idea of “sanctuary” for the undocumented within our community. You are all aware that All Are One has become a Sanctuary Support Community, meaning that we will give spiritual, material/financial and emotional support to the Church that will hopefully say, “yes” to becoming the Sanctuary Church within our community—the Church that will actually house the individuals needing support in their process to stave off, deportation. This past week, The Quakers have joined us in announcing that their group has voted to become a Sanctuary Support Community too!
The “love message” continues in today’s gospel where Jesus tells his first followers, “To live on in his love” and goes on to say and to model, how, in fact, that is done. Jesus does not consider himself to be better than those who follow him and to prove it, he calls them, “friends.”
One doesn’t call another “friend” when they are into power and control. That is why I call you all, “friends.” Hopefully, you notice the other ways that I try to show that we are one—I sit with you for the readings, rather than take a seat apart, giving myself honor above that of the Scriptures being read for us all. At all Roman Catholic women priest liturgies, you will notice that the pastor receives communion after serving it to the people, a sign that we are about “service”— not honor for ourselves.
This ministry of almost 10 years, this next Thursday, the 10th of May, has always been about what we do here together, as equals. This is reflected in the invitation that I repeat at the beginning of our Eucharistic Prayer when we have new people among us, reminding all present that by praying the beautiful words of consecration together, we do make Jesus present! We must remember that we are all celebrants here—I have the privilege of presiding, but it is together that we make Jesus present among us by our jointly prayed words.
So, my friends, we continue to walk faithfully through this Easter Season toward Pentecost and the remembrance that the Spirit walks constantly with us too on our journey through life giving us the strength to act with love as God first loved us and continues each day to love us. Yesterday, through the Interfaith Council, about 20 people came to the Redig Family Farm to walk our labyrinth—a sign and symbol of our journeys through life with all its ups and downs.
So, in the end the amount of years we have, isn’t nearly as important as the quality of the life that we live. This next week, on May 10th, we will remember that 10 years ago many of us took an extreme step, in faith, as we began our parish here—much about that initial endeavor was clearly the work of the Spirit—from my initial “yes” to ordination on May 4, 2008 to the support of many at our first Sunday Mass on May 10th of that same year.
Through these 10 years, we have grown as a community of faith that has generously given of its surplus time and talent in countless ways to our city, country and world. We have stood up for the right and privilege of women as well as men being able to answer their God-given calls to priesthood and for the right of all individuals, regardless of lifestyle choices to be welcome at our table.
We, as a community of faith have, these 10 years, stood for inclusivity, for welcome and for the message of Jesus. We are grateful for the responsibility of being a true Vatican II parish in this our home town of Winona, MN. May we, with God’s grace be true to this call now, and into the future. Amen? Amen!