32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – November 10, 2013 – Together in Faith We Can Do Anything
Four or five movies currently showing are all about fear and survival.  Film critic Andrew Romano suggests they “resonate with what is happening in the real world … they remind us that the human spirit is strong and that we can triumph over adversity.” Hopefully Romano is right in these times when many are struggling to survive.
The typhoon Haiyan, one of the strongest storms in recorded history, is taking tens of thousands of lives in the Philippines causing life threatening damage in six of the country’s islands. [Note: Many who worship at St. Vincent’s Parish come from the Philippines and have families there.]
Forty-million children and adults in the United States (16% of the population in New York State alone) are now struggling to put food on their tables because of the drastic cuts in the Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program (SNAP).
Today’s first reading from the bible tells the ancient story of a mother and her seven sons who were martyred during the persecution of the Jews about 160 years BCE. It too is a story about suffering and survival. Last night marked the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, the beginning of the holocaust.
All of these events are reminders that the human spirit is constantly challenged from age to age because of injustices as well as the uncontrollable force of nature. We ask ourselves where is God in these events? Where are we?
As Christians we understand Jesus of Nazareth as the one who came with a lifesaving message of resistance and renewal. He preached not mere resuscitation after suffering and death but something entirely new. He promised resurrection — a mysterious transforming experience that would replace life as we know it. The Saducees, members of the upper social and economic class of Jews at that time, did not believe in the resurrection and challenged Jesus.
Given these biblical and real life stories we can focus on what St. Vincent’s parish is doing to renew itself, to broaden its ministerial life and to help those who do live in fear, those who are struggling to survive. Maybe some of those people are right here with us this morning. We can concentrate on how this liturgical celebration unites us with the mission of Jesus of Nazareth.
We seldom think of worship and works of justice as inseparable; that one activity is really incomplete without the other. Fifty years ago this coming December 4th the Vatican Two Ecumenical Council renewed our church. It’s very first document, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, promoted a reformed understanding of worship.
In this parish we have started to mark this upcoming anniversary. St. Vincent’s on a Mission stressed our ongoing zeal for social action in the larger community. Soon we will inaugurate a renewal program for all liturgical ministries in our parish to help us see the connections between liturgy, hospitality and justice. And, as you know, we are now planning to renew our church building.
Churches like other houses of worship are metaphors for their congregations. They symbolize who we are, what we believe and how we practice our faith. They also shape the ways in which we worship. If our church is going through a renewal so will our worship be renewed. And, if our worship is renewed then our prayers, music, art and architecture also will be renewed.
Our new seating plan will help us appreciate that the sacraments, especially the eucharist, are not private acts. They are celebrations of the mystery of faith by the entire church with its clergy. In this setting no one person is more important than another.
The addition of new images of the saints, our spiritual ancestors, will remind us that we are part of a larger household of holy women and men. We pray to these sacred strangers for their presence, their spirit, their guidance every time we celebrate a sacrament.
The cross is a Christian symbol of the injustices in humanity. It is not something to gaze at as much as it is something for us to identify with, to embrace. We will relocate this tree of life more in our midst to be grasped and honored.
A new baptismal font located at our ceremonial entry will help us recall our initiation into the priesthood of Christ. It is where we welcome new members into our church; it is where we greet the bodies of deceased members.
And finally our existing altar table will be placed in the center of all of us. It is a symbol of Christ who is always in our midst. It is both an altar of sacrifice and a table of sustenance. United with Christ, we are nourished by the gifts we offer — bread, wine and ourselves — gifts that give us strength to survive, gifts that inspire us to serve others.
The main message of today’s gospel is that hope in the future depends not on wishful thinking or how we might imagine heaven to be. For God still speaks to us, encouraging us. Jesus continues to work among us. And, the holy Spirit counsels us as we struggle to survive the challenges that life presents to us.
Sometimes like Zacchaeus in last week’s gospel we have to find ways to rise above the tragedies and injustices that smudge the beauty of this world. We want to see clearly the bigger picture screen that frames our lives. It is a picture of God’s abundance, God’s sustenance, God’s justice and grace.
Zacchaeus climbed a tree to get a closer look at Jesus of Nazareth who represented hope and new possibilities for living. Because of Jesus Zacchaeus renewed his life and so can we. We can lift ourselves up and … we can help others rise up. In faith, sisters and brothers in Christ, together we can do anything!
1. “Gravity,” “12 Years a Slave,” “Captain Phillips” and “All Is Lost”