Homily: Religion and Our Gifts

Offered for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time 2016 (Proper 10, Year C)

Last Sunday I suggested that we can look at Saint Luke’s account of the Sending of the seventy-two for what it says about the nature of religion. While in the secular world, the term “religion” means a system of beliefs, of one form or another, within the Catholic tradition of Christianity, it is in effect a verb. Religion is first and foremost activity.

And so the seventy-two, sent by Jesus into homes to pronounce Peace and proclaim the Kingdom of God has come near — that is sent to represent Jesus to others — is at the heart of religion. We, too, the Body of Christ, are sent to represent Him in the world, sent each Sunday at the Dismissal — go in Peace, to love and serve the Lord — and therefore are presented with opportunity after opportunity to bless the homes around us with the Peace of Christ, and to proclaim in our lives that the Kingdom of God has come near. And then to return the following Sunday, the gathering of His Body, to come to the Altar of God to be reminded of the majesty of the Almighty Father, to meditate on his mighty acts, savoring again how Jesus Christ live, died on the cross, was buried, and rose again for our sins and for the sins of all people, past, present and future, to be enlivened by the Holy Spirit, and to be fed with the Bread of Life, rejuvenated for another week of ministry, of evangelism. Religion, then, is but the special way in which the whole of life is lived by faithful Christian.

In today’s Gospel, we hear the Parable of the Good Samaritan, and there is perhaps no more well-known parable in all of the New Testament. It repays constant reflection, meditation and contemplation, particularly in the troubled times of today’s society when we seem to hardly go more than a day without learning of some heart-wrenching tragedy. And to meditate upon the Parable looking for what it may say about religion-as-activity—it can teach us here as well. We notice in this passage the strong affirmation of how important it is to ask questions about the teachings of the Church. As I pointed out back in May when I gave a talk during Evening Prayer, there are two primary kinds of questions the first Christians asked on the Day of Pentecost. “What does it mean?” and “What shall we do?” On these two questions hang the health of every Christian community, including this one. These questions give evidence that the Holy Spirit is present and alive.

Now by that I mean, present and alive within the community, within the Parish family. Yet this Parable also makes clear that the Holy Spirit lives and is present outside the community, as well. It is the Parable about the Good Samaritan, not the Parable of the Good Jew. In Jesus’s story, the implication is clear: God teaches and forms the conscience of people outside of His chosen disciples, that is, outside His Church. To rearrange the words of our Collect today and apply it to this Parable, would go something like this: “God granted that this Samaritan knew and understood what things he ought to do; and that this Samaritan had the grace and power faithfully to accomplish them.” God works outside His elect, outside His Church on earth. His grace fills all in all, for He created all things and fills them with his blessing.

I had a conversation this past week with a man who, as it went, told me that he did not think it was necessary to go to Church in order to treat people with love and respect. And I told him — and I was wearing my collar—yes, agree. And this Parable is one reason why. God reveals the values of human decency, love, respect and dignity beyond those who come to Mass every Sunday. Even more, God bestows gifts upon such people, as he bestowed gifts upon the Samaritan man. See how the Samaritan man shared his gifts — of awareness, pity, bandages, oil and wine; a donkey, good sense and discernment, silver coins, even persuasion. We ourselves may not possess all of these gifts, yet we all possess gifts and talents given to us by God, and in abundance; for our God is not a miser, but has formed us in his image.

To use our gifts to the fullest, we firstly must acknowledge that they come from God, not us — it is He that hath made us, and not we ourselves; and secondly we must use them as they were meant to be used. This second part demands discernment, because it is not always readily apparent how best to use our gifts. It may take not weeks or months, but years, even decades — sometimes a whole life. The test is this, whatever the gift we may be trying to understand and use, is this gift giving greater glory to God, or to me? Does it lead to the growth of mercy, or does it lead to creeping pride? Does the gift increase health—spiritually and hence behaviorally—or does it lead us to hardened hearts in the face of hunger, fear, injustice and oppression?

Simply put, through our gifts do we represent Jesus in the world? That is the real test. With that in mind, let us hear the words again of our Collect.

O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.