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 The Peace Pulpit:  Homiles by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton

By 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.)
 
Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome
November 9, 2003
This week's readings **

Ezekiel 47:1-2, 8-9, 12
The angel brought me back to the entrance of the temple, and I saw water flowing out from beneath the threshold of the temple toward the east, for the fašade of the temple was toward the east; the water flowed down from the southern side of the temple, south of the altar. He led me outside by the north gate, and around to the outer gate facing the east, where I saw water trickling from the southern side. He said to me, "This water flows into the eastern district down upon the Arabah, and empties into the sea, the salt waters, which it makes fresh. Wherever the river flows, every sort of living creature that can multiply shall live, and there shall be abundant fish, for wherever this water comes the sea shall be made fresh. Along both banks of the river, fruit trees of every kind shall grow; their leaves shall not fade, nor their fruit fail. Every month they shall bear fresh fruit, for they shall be watered by the flow from the sanctuary. Their fruit shall serve for food, and their leaves for medicine."

1 Corinthians 3:9c-11, 16-17
Brothers and sisters: You are God's building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building upon it. But each one must be careful how he builds upon it, for no one can lay a foundation other than the one that is there, namely, Jesus Christ. Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy that person; for the temple of God, which you are, is holy.

 

John 2:13-22
Since the Passover of the Jews was near, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money-changers seated there. He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, "Take these out of here, and stop making my Father's house a marketplace." His disciples recalled the words of Scripture, Zeal for your house will consume me. At this the Jews answered and said to him, "What sign can you show us for doing this?" Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews said, "This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?" But he was speaking about the temple of his Body. Therefore, when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they came to believe the Scripture and the word Jesus had spoken.

 

 * 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.

He 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).
http://www.usccb.org/nab/

** 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.

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Today we are presented with the question: Where do we find God? In a building like this? Sometimes, I believe we fall into the mistake of thinking that we are going to find God in church. Sometimes we think it is the main place, maybe the only place, where we can find God or come to know God.

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.

When I arrived in Detroit for my year of volunteer experience, I did not recall reading in my job description that the answer to the questions "Who is God? Where is God?" might just be awaiting me. But perhaps it was wedged someplace between changing diapers and protesting injustices. Then what does God look like? What is the nature and substance of God?

In my most sincere attempt let me share my answers with you. To my surprise, God is less than two feet tall and has the beginning of an Afro. And yes, God is a woman. Well, actually, God is a little girl and she goes by the name Godza and God waddles a quick waddle but God definitely waddles. And God likes to smile. She loves your constant unbroken attention. And She is beautiful. But that's what God looks like on Wednesday afternoons.

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.

God runs around the corner with gorgeous deep brown eyes. God is 16 months old. God likes to hide in corners. God likes to open his little short and chubby arms and trust you. God likes to fall asleep on your shoulder at Mass. God doesn't speak English but God gives me the best green peppers and smiles. God has no legs and sits in a wheel chair at the corner of Junction and Michigan Avenues each evening. God knocks on the window to ask for money. God is inviting. God is love.

God is a doctor and works at the free clinic. God runs the clinic, too, and God sits in the waiting line at the clinic. God melts my heart. God likes to blow bubbles. God hangs on my neck and asks me to stay with him.

God is everywhere here. He's there when I wake up. He's there when I go to work. God walks up to the soup kitchen everyday. God sits in the stoop next door every night. God is gentle, holy and profound.

God is virtue. God is imminent. God sees me. God makes me laugh. God makes me think. God challenges me. God makes me cry. God is Hispanic and African-American and Bohemian and Polish and Chaldean. God has wavy hair. God is an artist. God has tiny feet. God lives. God is silence.

God tires me out. God energizes me. God enlightens me. God inspires me. God reminds me why I moved here. God reminds me why I miss home. God reminds me where home is. God is home. God even looks at me in the mirror every once in a while. And I see God and I touch God and I hear God and I cry for God and I love God and live with God and fight for God and change God's diaper.

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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