Homily – 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

My friends, for the past 5 weeks; we have been pondering the meaning of Jesus’ words to us, that he is the “bread of life”  along with the call for us to be “bread,” his life for our world.

We have talked about what that entails for each of us—loving as Jesus loved this world and its people, speaking our truth, as we come to know it, inspired by the Spirit of God, within our families, at work, at church, in our wider world and speaking that truth whether it is to our priest, our bishop or our pope. We have learned recently what happens when the truth is kept in the dark from the People of God.

With that then as a backdrop; we move on to a new theme today in our readings—that of faith.  The issue of faith is not separate from our action of sharing Jesus with our world, in all its aspects, but faith, our faith, in fact, gives us the strength, based on what we know from Jesus’ life with us to remain strong to do what we must to become our best selves, walking in his footsteps.

To have faith, to believe as Joshua is asking the Israelites at Shechem in today’s 1st reading is no small task.  First and foremost, he wants them to believe in some god—commit to following a force greater than themselves—he sees this as so important that he tells them if it can’t be YHWH, then choose to believe in the god of the Amorites that your ancestors believed in who previously lived on your land.

Joshua though, as all prophets do, leads by example—“He and his family will believe in YHWH.” The people do eventually follow his lead as they realize that the God of Joshua has been with them too when they lived in slavery and that this God brought them out of that land and time.

Joshua relates the story of how their God has loved and cared for them and that gratitude must be their response along with serving faithfully this God who has not    abandoned them and never will. Joshua doesn’t want them to be “wishy-washy,” but find and know in their hearts what it is that they believe and be willing to stand up and say it and act upon it in their daily lives.

As a bit of an aside; I wanted to call your attention to the name that Joshua uses to speak of God—YHWH, devoid of vowels. This text comes to us from The Priests for Equality, as you know.  Writing God’s name in this fashion is being true to the Israelites’ notion that they really couldn’t adequately speak of the awesomeness of their God.  Our church hierarchy today would do well to learn from their example that they can’t put God in a box, defining, in their minds, who God is, complete with gender—male of course, and made in their image and likeness so as to give to us, those that they supposedly shepherd, a God that supports all that they design and do.

I just finished reading John Shelby Spong’s latest, and in his words, “final book” entitled, Unbelievable: Why Neither Ancient Creeds nor the Reformation Can Produce a Living Faith Today. It’s a remarkable book wherein he gives us 12 theses, challenging within them, the core tenets of our faith.

Spong, an Episcopal bishop for many years, as well as an international speaker and writer, has proven himself to be one, over his ministerial lifetime, a deep thinker and spiritual person of prayer and faith out of which his Spirit-filled ideas flow.  He writes and speaks not for his own aggrandizement, but for the good of the People of God.

Just some of the topics he challenges us to look at and either re-commit our faith to, or leave behind are: original sin, the virgin birth, atonement theology, Easter, the ascension, life after death.  It is not that he is in denial necessarily about these issues, but is clearly looking to have them make sense in our lives today. We have talked about that a good deal here as we try to make the Scriptures come alive in our day.

To have faith generally means to believe in something that we can’t completely understand.  That is different from being asked to believe in outdated concepts such as original sin, virgin births and atonement theology, Bishop Spong would say.  If a concept does not enhance our beliefs, but merely confuses us, then perhaps a further look is necessary.

Priests for Equality have aided us in this regard when we try to update our Scriptures,  being inclusive in as many ways as possible—in gender and in culture, to name just two, so that the Scriptures can become a living document for all.    Paul’s letter to the Ephesians today is a case in point.

This translation speaks of “loving your partners.” Older translations always spoke of, “husbands loving their wives.”  With the new translation, “loving your partners,” this once dead reading to gay couples is now opened up for them and is alive. Spong would say, “Updating our language allows us to see broader ideas rather than getting caught in words that exclude and divide.

And finally, in our sometimes struggles to understand and to believe, Jesus asks us all from the Gospel today, “Is this a stumbling block for you?  Are you going to leave me too?”

This last question from our brother Jesus today, lets us know that there were no doubt many who couldn’t believe or didn’t want to believe that doing what he asked,  loving radically and “wastefully,” as Spong says, as Jesusand his Abba did, would lead to anything good.

In our Catholic church today; there are no doubt many who if they haven’t already walked away, will now, over the revelations out of Pennsylvania of the sex abuse of over 1,000 children by 300 priests and the cover-up by bishops and popes.

This past week has also brought forth statements by authors, teachers, theologians—a letter signed by over 3,000 such individuals asking that all bishops within this country voluntarily resign as an action representing good faith in resolving this crisis.  Such an action is truly needed! Adding women as priests or allowing for married men won’t fix this broken system.  Change in total must happen—“clericalism,” the institution that sets clergy above the people they supposedly serve, has to go—now!

It has been suggested by some that a commission of 2/3 laity with full voting powers be set up to lead these necessary changes as it seems rather unlikely that these changes will come from the hierarchy.  Jesus’ question today, “Is this a stumbling block for you?” is certainly apropos.

Faith, in its truest sense calls us to be thinking, loving, compassionate people—faith only makes sense if we, each of us, are willing to say and do the hard things that will convict us of being Christians—followers of Jesus! Amen? Amen!