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|The Peace Pulpit: Homilies by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton|
special arrangement, The National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company
is able to make available Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton's weekly Sunday homilies given at Saint Leo Church, Detroit, MI. Each homily is transcribed from a tape recording of the actual delivery and made available to you as an NCR Web site exclusive. You may register for a weekly e-mail reminder that will be sent to you when each new homily is posted. From time to time, Bishop Gumbleton is traveling and unable to provide us with the homily for the week.
NOTE: The homilies are available here five days after they are given, always on Friday. By signing up for our weekly e-mail, you will be notifed as soon as each is available. (See the upper right corner of this screen.)
Thomas J. Gumbleton
Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
Ezekiel 47:1-2, 8-9, 12
1 Corinthians 3:9c-11, 16-17
* A longtime national and international activist in the peace movement, Bishop Gumbleton is a founding member of Pax Christi USA and an outspoken critic of the sanctions against Iraq.
has appeared on numerous radio and television programs, and has published numerous articles and reports.
* Scripture texts in this work are in modified form from the American Standard Version of the Bible and are available as part of the public domain.
For your convenience, the
Scripture texts, as they appear in the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States, second typical edition, Copyright © 1998, 1997, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C., may be found at the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCC).
** The Web link to Pax Christi is provided as a service to our readers.
(Editor's Note: Bishop Gumbleton used alternate readings from those cited at left. He used Chapter 8 of the First Book of Kings for the first reading and read Luke 19:1-10 for the gospel.).
I think for those people who have become holy following the way of Jesus, it's a rather strange feast that we celebrate today. When we think about it, we celebrate a building. Generally we celebrate God, Jesus and the Spirit or we celebrate people who have become holy following the way of Jesus. But today we celebrate a church. Yet, it is not really the building that we celebrate and that becomes very clear when you to listen to the Word of God that we have presented to us this morning.
Now, we are happy to have a beautiful church like this, and it does create an atmosphere of calmness and beauty. Yet, the building itself is not what's important. That church in Rome, the dedication of which we celebrate today, is not what's important. What is important is, first, discovering where we find God. Secondly, as the Scriptures make so clear, the church we are talking about is not a building, it's a people and all of us are God's people, the community of disciples of Jesus. Those are the ideas we will explore a bit this morning.
In the first lesson today, Solomon built a marvelous temple and all the people were rejoicing in it. Yet, as he prayed in that temple, giving thanks to God, he raised his hands toward heaven and said: "Yahweh, God of Israel, there is no God like you either in heaven or on earth. You keep your covenant; show loving kindness to your servants who go before you whole-heartedly."
Solomon was filled with thanksgiving and praise for God because God had brought them back and enabled them to build this beautiful temple. Then further on, he says: "But will God really live among people on earth? If neither earth nor the highest heavens can contain you, how much less can this house which I have built?" Solomon is reminding us that God can't be contained within a building.
If we are really going to discover God, it will not be inside any particular building, no matter how holy we think this building, this shrine, this church, or whatever is. We are going to find God elsewhere, in different places, but especially in people.
I have an article here that appeared in the Mercy Corps Newsletter and I won't say who wrote it because she would be very embarrassed, I think, if I said her name but it's a marvelous expression of where you find God. I won't read the whole article but parts of it.
Mercy Corps volunteers are young people who come and live in various places for a year or two years in works of service and actions of justice and so on. In this article, the writer says, like a true Catholic:
I am no better off at answering the most complex questions regarding God or even the most basic fifth grade question. Well, okay, I can say that God is not the bearded old white man I had initially dreamt of in the first grade. But that's as far as my certainty goes.
Then she goes on in other places where she finds God.
God is a foster mother. God takes care of children constantly, unceasingly with a limitless love. God also teaches all day and then comes home to care for kids so lovingly as though this were the first part of her day. God is retired, too, but God gets up early to teach me how to change a diaper or new ways to entertain a baby.
I think it becomes clear that God is in people. If only we could grasp that truth as this young woman has and really see God in everybody we meet, what a difference it would make in our world.
The Gospel lesson today is exactly the same thing. Here is this man, Zaccheus, who is a notorious sinner, someone that people despise and yet Jesus sees God in him. And look what happens to Zaccheus. When Jesus affirms God in him, God's love in him, Zaccheus is transformed.
"I'll give half my possessions to the poor." A dramatic change. "If I cheated anybody, I'll give them four times what I stole." Jesus says plainly: "God's love has come into this home of Zaccheus. God's love has come into Zaccheus and it changes Zaccheus. But Jesus was the one who recognized that. The rest of the people were grumbling. Why would he go into the house of a sinner? But Jesus saw God even in Zaccheus.
And that's what happens when we see God in every person. Every person. The tiniest little baby might annoy us when it cries, but the baby is also God present to us. The person in prison, God is in that person. The people who come into our soup kitchen and eat every day, God is in every one of them. But we have to have the eyes to see God.
God is not in the church building. This is the first part of our instruction today and that's what Solomon had said: God can't be contained in this building. God can't be contained in all of the universe. God is everywhere. God is in everyone. Not just in a building.
So even though we love our building, don't think this is the place where we are going to meet God. We will meet God in one another. And if we have the eyes to see, we will see God in everyone we meet no matter where we are. That will change us and it will change those whom we look upon with love and reverence.
The other part of the instruction that is so important today evolves around the idea that we should never think of "the church" as a building. In fact, you know, there is no place in the Christian Scriptures - not in the gospels, not in the letters of Paul, not in the Acts of the Apostles - there is no place where a church building is named or blessed or spoken about. That's because there were no church buildings for the first 300 years.
It was in the 4th century that the Church of St. John Lateran was dedicated. This was one of the first churches built by the Christian community. Up until that time, they had this very clear idea: "We are the church." As Paul said in that letter to the Ephesians, "You are God's temple. You are the temple." Yes, you are built on Jesus who is the foundation but every one of us is part of that building. It's a living building.
This reminds us why we come here, why we gather here. It isn't just so we can rejoice in the beauty around us. That could be true. It isn't so we can hear the music and enjoy that. It isn't so that we'll feel good because we've gone to church. It isn't because we need something and so we come to church to ask God for it. All of these things can be part of the reason we come on a Sunday morning to celebrate the Eucharist together.
But the real reason, the main reason, the reason we should focus on is that we come together to worship together in order to become more bonded as God's people, that we become a community alive with Jesus within us, that we become truly God's people, the community of disciples that Jesus sends forth to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria and to the ends of the earth. We come to church to be bonded as a community of God's people, God's disciples of Jesus.
Because Jesus sent us into the world to proclaim the Good News, to transform our world into as close an image of the reign of God as possible, we need to be nurtured with God's word every week. We need to be gathered around the table to receive the nourishment of God's body and blood. We need sometimes, like today, to come together to be healed as a community, not just as individuals but as a community, to be healed so that all of us become more deeply and profoundly a community of disciples of Jesus. That is how the work of God, transforming our world into the reign of God, will happen. That is why we come every week: to hear God's Word, to be nurtured with the Eucharist and to grow more fully into God's people.
Today, then, we do celebrate this church at St. John Lateran but we go far beyond that. We celebrate ourselves as God's people, as God's church. We understand that we've seen God not just in a building. We find God wherever we go, among anyone we meet. As we bring God's goodness and love, we receive God's goodness and love, and we become more deeply God's people. That is how we transform our world into the reign of God.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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