Sunday, April 21, 2013

Homily - 4th Sunday of Easter - First Responders

Act 13:14, 43-52
Revelation 7:9, 14b-7
John 10:27-30

             Terrorism has once again touched our American shores. 

This terror came in the form of two bombs set off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Patriot’s Day Monday.  This senseless act strikes a chord of fear and despair in our hearts. 

The suspects are two brothers from Chechnya, Russia.  One is dead following a shootout with police.  The other is a 19-year-old who became a U.S. Citizen on 9-11 last year.  He was captured alive Friday night after a daylong manhunt and tense standoff. 
         In their wake, 4 people are dead.  Over 170 are wounded.  Some 20 are in critical condition.  

One of the dead:  8-year-old Martin Richard whose picture on social media with a now famous hand-drawn sign reading, “No more hurting people.  Peace” became a symbol of grief for a nation.  

            For meditation, I want us to reflect on several passages from today’s Word of God. 

From Revelation, “These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

            From Acts of the Apostles, “I have made you a light to the Gentiles that you may be an instrument of salvation to the ends of the earth.”

From John’s Gospel, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”

 What is God trying to tell us this weekend in Sacred Scripture especially in light of the troubling events of the past week?

Let’s start with the Gospel message.  For context, we need to remember who Jesus is speaking to in this passage.  His words are spoken to “the Jews” in the Temple of Jerusalem who do not believe Jesus is the Messiah.  The words are spoken on the Feast of Dedication. You may know it as Hanukkah. 
Jesus knows this feast celebrates the Dedication of the altar and reconsecration of the Temple by the Maccabees after several years of desecration under Syrian rule in second century B.C.

What Jesus is telling “the Jews” in the Temple is He is the Messiah, He is the Good Shepherd, and the sheep of the Good Shepherd hear His voice and respond to it. 

Jesus is telling his Jewish brothers, “there is no longer need to look to the physical building of the Temple Mount to know of God’s presence to God’s people.  Jesus, who stands before (them) points to himself and claims he is the visible presence of God among them.”

Scholars have written, “No Messiah in the Jewish expectation would claim to replace the Temple, but that is exactly what Jesus does.” 

For 1st Century Jews, you can see how this could be construed as blasphemy.  It’s easy to understand why non-believers in Jesus the Messiah would want Him killed for saying such things.

Now on to Acts of the Apostles, Paul and Barnabas are stirring up the same tensions in Antioch.  It’s the Sabbath as they enter the synagogue and proceed to tell all assembled, the Jewish torch to be a “light to the Gentiles” (or “light of the Nations”) has now passed to the followers of Jesus Christ. 
Paul and Barnabas are shown the door and quickly shake the dust off their feet as they depart.

Sadly, some misinterpret this passage as meaning God has abandoned His chosen people because of their unbelief. 

I caution us not to jump to this conclusion as it can be the first step down the dangerous path of anti-Semitism.   

The Apostle Luke’s point here is to reflect Paul’s own words in his letters:  “the Gospel is meant for the Jews first, then Gentiles.”

Now let’s tackle the passage from the almost always misinterpreted Book of Revelation.  Here, we see something unique.  We see a countless multitude from every race, every nation, every people, and every language as the new Israel. 

The promise made to Abraham and Moses now encompasses a “multinational, multicultural and multilinguistic multitude.” 

All of this because of Jesus’ presence here on earth and on His reign on His heavenly throne.

There was a logic in Israel’s tradition of holy war in which persons who killed during war were required to wash their robes to remove the blood of their enemies before they were purified.  

Some scholars say today’s passage from Revelation reverses that tradition by showing, “it’s not the enemy’s blood that must be removed in order to achieve purity, but a sharing in the Lamb’s blood itself that generates purity.”  Vengeance and violence are replaced by love, self-sacrifice and forgiveness.

Today’s reading from Revelation also provides us with the reassuring words for the troubles of our times – our times of distress:
They will not hunger or thirst anymore, nor will the sun or any heat strike them. For the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes”

A dear friend from my WSU days and a valued colleague during a decade together at KOMO eloquently put the events of the past week into context for us.

Eric Johnson wrote, “Maybe the idea was to destroy Patriot’s Day – the symbolism of it.  Maybe the idea was to make us afraid.  Ultimately, it was a failure, a loud ugly failure.  It was a failure because it reminded us of who we are and what we stand for…  It was a failure because like 9-11, like Oklahoma City, it only held up a mirror for us to look and wonder at ourselves.  The way so many of us run towards hellfire instead of away.  The way so many of us act with grace in the face of the unthinkable.”

I’m reminded of a story of a first responder on 9-11.  David Karnes was a senior accountant working at Deloitte Touche in Connecticut in September 2001. 

When the second plane hit the World Trade Center, Karnes looked at his boss and said, “We’re at war.” 

David had spent over 20 years in the Marine Corps and felt it was his duty to help out that day.  As about to leave the office, David told his boss he may not be back anytime soon.

David next went to a barbershop to get a Marine Corps regulation haircut.  He then grabbed one of his old uniforms he kept hanging neatly pressed in a home closet, gathered all his infantry gear (including ropes and repelling implements) from a storage unit and before heading to New York City, stopped by his church and met with his pastor.

David is a devout Christian.  He told his pastor he felt called by God to go to Ground Zero.  They prayed together that he would be led to survivors.

Once he got to New York City he tried to talk others at the command center into venturing to the center of the destruction to search for survivors.  Most said it was too late.  There was only one taker.

For hours, former Staff Sergeant David Karnes and another former Marine Sergeant Jason Thomas searched through the ragged, unstable and dangerous wreckage of the collapsed 100-story Twin Towers, through fire and smoke and shifting debris.

Karnes kept screaming, “United States Marines.  If you can hear us yell or tap.”  This went on for hours.

Eventually, they heard something.  As they stood quietly, a  weak voice emerged from the wreckage, “We’re over here.”

After seeing the men were trapped under tons of concrete and steel, 20 feet below from where their rescuers stood, Karnes pulled out his cell phone to call his wife in Connecticut and sister in Pennsylvania to ask them to contact authorities.  Have them send rescue workers immediately to the center of the South Tower wreckage.

Help would finally arrive and hours would pass before both men were pulled from the ruble.

Out of only twelve people rescued from the debris of the World Trade Center, New York Port Authority policemen Will Jimeno and Sgt. John McLoughlin, were two of the last three people to be extracted from the carnage.

Jimeno and McLoughlin were among hundreds of first responders who rushed into harm’s way to help save lives.  Most lost their lives that fateful day.

“My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”

David Karnes followed God’s voice and a miracle emerged from the terror, the jagged steel, the flames, the disaster of 9-11.

I’m sure we will read stories in the coming days about many in Boston who followed God’s voice last Monday and jumped into harm’s way.

Jesus Christ reminds us today that God does not exist in a building or a nation or a race of people, but in the hearts of those who hear His voice and follow Him.

There were so many victims that horrible day of 9-11 nearly 12 years ago – victims from every nation, every race, every tongue.  To see the names of the 2-thousand-six-hundred-and-six who died in the rubble that day (over 400 of whom where first responders) is to see a multinational who’s who list.
I find it so poetically perfect that the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center are now replaced with a shining beacon of light.

As I see the light I think of all those first responders who rush in when others run away.  As I see the light I think of all of the self-sacrificing helpers in times of chaos and catastrophe.  As I see the light I think of God’s promise to all of us His followers, “I have made you a light to the Gentiles, that you may be an instrument of salvation to the ends of the earth.” 

This should give us all consolation and hope in times of our great distress. 

And push us all harder to be like Jesus – beacons of peace, beacons of love, beacons of forgiveness, beacons of service to others, and beacons of justice.  That’s what the voice of the Good Shepherd is calling all His lambs to become in a violent, troubled world.  I pray we always hear and follow His voice.

Sources:  Sacra Pagina - The Gospel of John - Francis J. Moloney, S.D.B.
                 Unveiling Empire:  Reading Revelation Then and Now - Howard-Brook/Gwyther
                 New Collegeville Bible Commentary - Acts of the Apostles - Dennis Hamm
                 The Gospel and Epistles of John - A Concise Commentary - Raymond E. Brown

No comments:

Post a Comment